Posted on May 14, 2009 in DRM by Brian RoweView Comments

Late last month I made my first official comment to the copyright office.  This comment was in opposition to DRM and took a very personal look at how DRM harms people with dyslexia.  This comment gives a lot of insight into why I founded Freedom for IP a little over four years ago.  Access to knowledge should be a basic human right.  Restrictions on knowledge like DRM always have a negative impact on those who have the least power or economic might in a society.

Here is the full comment to the copyright office:

I am writing to inform the Copyright Office and the World Intellectual Property Organization of the negative impact that extremely ridged copyright law has on my life as a law student and as a father.  I have lived my whole life with dyslexia, a learning disability that severely effects the way I read and write. My form of dyslexia changes the way I read. I must learn each word twice – once for written text and again for spoken language. I am unable to sound words out beyond a first grade level, and have difficulty expressing my ideas in a written format.  By contrast I am very well spoken and can engage in complex discourse over legal and technical problems in an oral format.  My dyslexia went hidden for most of my life, I nearly failed high school and dropped out of undergrad more then once.  Before the dyslexia was diagnosed, I would interview professors and only take classes that were graded heavily on spoken presentations or class projects like debate or computer programing classes, while avoiding written tests like the plague.

It was not until I started taking classes at the University of Washington in my junior year of college that I was directed to an educational psychologist who diagnosed the dyslexia.  This changed my academic experience and my direction in life, I was allowed accommodations that often include oral exams and alternative requirement for grammar or spelling intensive classes like foreign languages.  My grade point average moved from a mid C to a solid A minus.  After turning my academic career around and earning a Bachelors of Science in Informatics and a Bachelors of Arts in Political Science with minors in philosophy and human rights, I decided to pursue a law degree focusing on intellectual property law.

Reasonable accommodations and technology have enabled me to succeed both professionally and in law school.  As a legal professional it is very important that I understand each word written.  I use text-to-speech software to read statutes, case law, law review articles, memos, and legal books.  Text-to-speech software is an important tool for my legal research and understanding of texts. Without text-to-speech software, my understand of text can be limited.  If text-to-speech software is not available on a work that I need to reference I often have to go to outside help, having a friend or associate confirm the words written which can be time consuming or difficult.  Locking a copyrighted work behind digital rights management (DRM) that does not allow text-to-speech functionality severely reduces my ability to understand the full meaning of the text.

I also use many technical features to improve my use of software.  One example is spell suggest in search options. As a dyslexic it is often be difficult to search sites due to an inability to spell the key terms. Spell suggest allows me to use the search option as if I were not dyslexic.  Copyright right law including the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) prevents me from improving or adding features that make my software more accessible.  An improved version of a piece of software may be considered an infringing derivative work, while tinkering with the program directly is often prevented by DRM.  The anti-circumvention criminal penalties in the DMCA mean that I risk serious legal repercussions for trying to customized a work I own to be accessible.  The criminal penalties of the DMCA also discourage professionals with more technical knowledge from helping me make works accessible.  I am a law student and legal scholar. Limited exceptions to the DMCA that allow me to create personal work-around will not solve these problems, as I do not posses the skills to make all work accessible by myself.  I need the support of a community of computer professionals to help create open innovative solutions to gain access to knowledge locked in print formats.

I am also the father of a seven-year-old girl who is learning to read.  As a parent I understand how important it is to her development to read with her and help her on homework.  Fortunately she appears not to have dyslexia – reading for her is a much easier task then it was for me as a child. Teaching her to read is a challenge for a dyslexic parent, she can already sound out words that I can only memorize.  I can not help her sound out many words.  Text-to-speech software can be very helpful in reading with her, it enables me to check the pronunciation of words and help her learn to read.  Text-to-speech software can also be used as a tool for my daughter to check her own reading.  Without technology that enables disabled parents to teach their children, there is a a real threat that these children will not learn the basic skills they need.

In the future please allow for comments to be submitted in an audio or video formats.  For many people with dyslexia it is a real challenge to put thoughts and ideas in a written format.  More people with print based disabilities are likely to comment if you enable comments in alternative formats.  This letter was written and edited with the assistance of an editor, many people with dyslexia do not have access to a personal editor.  Please feel free to contact me for future comments on this issue.


Brian Rowe
3L Seattle University Law – Graduating May 2009
Founder – Freedom for IP
Washington State Access to Justice Technology Committee Member

Posted on May 8, 2009 in FSF by Brian RoweComments Off

The Free Software Foundation has a new internship program for free software activists, inviting students to apply for its first round of openings by Monday, May 25th!

The program provides opportunities for participants to work closely with FSF staff members for twelve-week terms in core areas of the FSF’s work, including campaign and community organizing, free software licensing, systems and network administration, GNU project support, and web development.

We have provided internships on and off over the years, but we’re excited tobe able to offer these more permanent educational opportunities. We’re looking forward to working with and learning from students, and I’m glad that as part of our continued growth we are able to offer a place where students concerned with free software ethics can help advance a cause they care about,- John Sullivan, FSF’s operations manager.

The internships are unpaid, but the FSF will provide the documentation needed for students to receive funding or credit from outside sources. A limited number of positions are available, and priority will be given to candidates able to work full-time on-site at the FSF headquarters in Boston.

Application instructions and further details about the program are available at <>.

(Disclaimer: I am a paid FSF member)

Posted on May 6, 2009 in IP by Brian RoweView Comments


This last week I attended barcamp PDX where the CC session (put on by a Portland area photographer @ahockley) focused heavily on what is attribution and how should one be attributed.  At the same time there was a thread on the Free Culture mailing list focusing on best practices for fair use and attribution.  This is a topic I have been struggling with over the last 2 years.  I am starting to speak more often and am publishing the slides on  I have found that putting attribution on each slide really detracts from the presentation. Having a single slide of 3 point text with all attribution possible can quickly become unreadable.  Here is how I have been attributing, I put a credits slide at the end of my slide shows that look something like this:

Slides 2-7 Sarah Davies PD
Slides 7-12  Flickr user: mecredis CC BY
Slide 28 Bound by Law Available @ CC BY NC SA
Other images were used under my first amendment fair use rights.
This slide show is licensed under CC-BY Brian Rowe

This is probably acceptable but could be better.  I am technically in violation of the CC license for Bound by Law, I did not notice till I picked up my physical copy for Bound by Law that they had specified exact attribution on page 1.  I am also in violation of Fred’s license as I have used what I would consider a best practice for flickr attribution which does not technically follow the attribution Fred has asked for. I should probably add attribution to the fair use works where possible.  Additionally, Public Domain works do not legaly need attribution, but it is nice to give it so others can figure out how I am claiming rights to use the works and can feel more comfortable with reuse of those portions of my work.  This would be a better:

Slides 2-7, PD Original available at slideshare
Slides 7-12 Fred BenensonCC BY. Flickr user: mecredis avalible at Joi Ito
Slide 13  Victor Zhang ARR? Out of the Closet, Victor [me at viczhang dot com], Fair use
Slides 14 Author Unknown, found at, Fair use
Slide 28 Bound by Law, By Keith Aoki, James Boyle, Jenifer Jenkins, CC BY NC SA
This slide show is licensed under CC BY Brian Rowe

This is longer and a little tougher to read but if  posted online the slides allow people to follow links and check the licenses out for themselves.  If it is just at the end of a slide show some people will not read it, and a printed version of the slides may lose all the links.  This is better, but I am sure it could be improved upon.

The fair use attribution is tough Victor Zhang’s site says “I do license my works for commercial use. Please email me for more information. Victor [me at viczhang dot com] .”  Does this imply an NC license?  Probably not, but maybe. I am using the work for a NC, educational presentation, I am not charging for access or for the presentation, I am not being paid for the use and the use is 15 seconds.  This is very likely a fair use. Do I have to give attribution legaly, no. But attribution does help me with a good faith argument and is the right thing to do.  Does attribution mean it is easier for Victor to find and sue me, yes.  Although this should not be a reason not to attribute.

Does anyone know of a wiki that collects best practices for attribution?  I would be willing to contribute to an attribution best practices website, if someone is interested in launching one.

PS I have been a little quiet lately, I have 10 days till I graduate from law school.  I will be back to blogging in force right after graduations.