WebAIM - Web Accessibility In Mind

United States Laws
The Chafee Amendment

Description of Section 255

Copyright laws in the United States prevent the unauthorized reproduction of copyrighted works. In 1996, Senator John H. Chafee introduced an amendment to the United States Copyright Law that provides an exception to this rule for nonprofit or government organizations to create reproductions of copyrighted works in a form more accessible to people with disabilities that impact reading. The Chafee Amendment was initially used primarily by the National Library Service.

Though the Chafee Amendment initially limited what types of content could be reproduced legally, its scope was substantially expanded by the Marrakesh Treaty Implementation Act of 2018 to cover most written media.

Description of Section 255

In 2011, the Author's Guild, along with a few other individual authors and organizations for authors, sued the HathiTrust Digital Library, a substantial repository of digital contents from research libraries, for copyright violation. The plaintiffs alleged that the digital scans of their works were unlicensed reproductions. A district court found in favor of the defendant, initially citing digital reproductions as transformative work. However, the Second Circuit court expanded on this opinion, asserting that the digital copies could be more easily accessed by people with disabilities that impacted their ability to read print copies, and that they were therefor protected by the Chafee Amendment.

This ruling provides legal precedent for the digital reproduction of copyrighted works for accessibility purposes. This has the potential to shape the country's approach to digital content for years to come.