Regulation

Obama Era ADA Regulations Another Obstacle to Free Speech at Berkeley

Closed captioning can be prohibitively expensive for archived lectures the school wants to make available to the public.

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A third threat to free speech at University of California, Berkeley has led to more censorship than political rioters or college administrators.

It's the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Berkeley is expensive. Out of state students must pay $60,000 a year. But for five years, Berkeley generously posted 20,000 of its professors' lectures online. Anyone could watch them for free.

Then government regulators stepped in.

The Americans with Disabilities Act stipulates, "No qualified individual with a disability shall … be denied the benefits of … services."

As with most laws, people can spend years debating what terms like "denied," "benefits" and "services" mean.

President Obama's eager regulators, in response to a complaint from activists, decided that Berkeley's videos violated the ADA. The Justice Department sent the school a threatening letter: "Berkeley is in violation of title II … The Attorney General may initiate a lawsuit."

What Berkeley had done wrong, said the government, was failing to caption the videos for the hearing impaired. The ADA makes it illegal to "deny" deaf people services available to others.

Equality is a noble goal, but closed captioning is expensive.

Computers are learning to turn speech into text, but so far they're not good at it. A speech-to-text program transcribed a Harvard lecturer's comment "on our campus" as "hot Kampen good."

Captions that meet government's standards must be typed out by a person who listens to each word. Captioning Berkley's 20,000 lectures would cost millions. The school decided that, to be safe, it would just stop offering its videos. The administration even removed the existing videos from its website.

So now, instead of some deaf people struggling to understand university lectures, no one gets to hear them.

Politicians mean well when they pass rules like the ADA, but every regulation has unintended consequences. Most are bad.

In this case, fortunately, an angry entrepreneur came to the rescue. Jeremy Kauffman hates to see valuable things disappear, so right before Berkeley deleted its website, Kauffman copied the videos and posted them on his website, called LBRY (as in Library).

He says the Berkeley videos are just the start of what LBRY has planned. He wants the site to be YouTube—but without the content restrictions.
LBRY uses a new technology that operates like Bitcoin. It's "decentralized," meaning videos posted are stored on thousands of computers around the world. That makes it nearly impossible for governments—or even Kauffman himself—to remove them.

"LBRY is designed to be much more decentralized, much more controlled by users" and "absolutely freer," Kauffman explains in a video I posted this week.

He acknowledges that with no censorship, his invention may end up hosting videos of bad things—beheadings, child porn, who knows what else. But he argues that if he creates a system with censorship, "it allows us to keep the bad stuff out, which is great, but it also allows dictatorial regimes to keep content off. Do we want to make videos available to the people in Turkey, Iran and China? We say yes."

LBRY will let users flag videos depicting illegal actions. Those videos may no longer be shown on LBRY. However, other websites can show the illegal content using LBRY's technology, and Kauffman can't stop that.

Kauffman says he won't remove the Berkeley videos from his site even if he's sued because there aren't captions for deaf people.

"Is that a reason that content shouldn't be available to everyone?" asks Kauffman.

Government is force whether it is deliberately doing something cruel or just trying to solve one group's problems by imposing restrictions on others.

"Do you want to put a gun to someone's face and say 'Caption those videos'? It's absurd."

It is absurd. What government does is often absurd.

Thank goodness for the internet and for people like Kauffman, someone willing to spend his own money to keep information free.

COPYRIGHT 2017 BY JFS PRODUCTIONS INC.

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  1. What Berkeley had done wrong, said the government, was failing to caption the videos for the hearing impaired. The ADA makes it illegal to “deny” deaf people services available to others.

    How will closed captions help the comatose?

    1. Or those both deaf and blind.

      Or simply too dumb to understand.

      1. Or deaf and can only read Chinese? They better release captioning for every single language too.
        Or blind and can’t understand English? They better have audio tracks for every single language.
        Or have a learning disability? The videos better pop out some Ritalin per view.
        Or have snowflake syndrome where all the videos are triggering? The videos better not have any content.

        1. Come now, saying that deaf students should be left out so that others can listen to the tapes is like saying that some people should be allowed to commit speech crimes so that others can engage in “parody.” Surely no one here would dare to defend the “First Amendment dissent” of a single, isolated judge in America’s leading criminal “satire” case? See the documentation at:

          http://raphaelgolbtrial.wordpress.com/

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            This is what I do… http://www.netcash10.com

  2. Politicians mean well when they pass rules like the ADA

    Stalin meant well.

  3. “The Death of Common Sense” was a great book that dealt with this issue. The phrase it used about people using their rights as a “sword, rather than a shield” was the best turn of phrase to discuss this phenomenon I’ve seen yet. I do wish courts would toss out laws that are vague and are overly reliant on bureaucrats to decide the meaning.

    1. But it is the bureaucrats that make the regulations vague. It increases their power to threaten.

      1. One thing that’s certainly not “vague” is the line between mere embarrassment and damage to an academic reputation, and when that line is crossed, we need to have bureaucrats with the power to threaten, so that the distinguished representatives of our nation’s intellectual elite can continue to thrive in their careers. Surely no one here would dare to defend the “First Amendment dissent” of a single, isolated judge in America’s leading criminal “parody” case? See the documentation at:

        http://raphaelgolbtrial.wordpress.com/

  4. Because it would be impossible for a deaf person to hire an interpreter if they actually watch a video.
    Missing from the article is the number of deaf persons actually affected.
    What about all the people in California who do not speak English (I have read that there are a few). Must the videos be translated into all languages in the world?
    Yet another example of why regulations are bad. If it is important enough for federal legislation, spell it out in the law.
    Now I understand why California has outlawed tar, feathers, and rails.

    1. I find this as outrageous as Stossel (and I was involved at my university in trying to comply with the law) but speaking another language is not a ‘disability’ as defined by the law.
      But, as I pointed out in another post on this topic yesterday, it also makes it very difficult to use foreign movies in classes, because blind students can’t see the subtitles, and I don’t think screen readers would work too well given the spoken French/Swahili/Turkish dialog (not to mention sound effects). Unintended consequences emerges again.

      1. “What about all the people in California who do not speak English (I have read that there are a few). Must the videos be translated into all languages in the world?”

        ?

        “speaking another language is not a ‘disability’ as defined by the law.”

        =

        People who do not speak English in California may also be blind.

  5. Follow the money in this case and I’m sure that you’ll find someone who wanted the free educational videos banned because they perceived it cut into their profits. This is almost always the case in stories like these.

    1. While this is possible, even likely, one should never discount the possibility that some ‘disabled’ twit has simply brought suit because it never occurred to him that the result would be NO videos, rather than subtitled videos. Or even that some vermin has brought suit because it amuses him to spoil things for other people.

  6. Isn’t there software that does that? Like on youtube?

    1. Not effectively.
      Bill Gates notwithstanding, people do things better than computers.
      Ever been in a sports bar and actually tried to follow the text box? It s easy to tell which are humans and which are computers.

      1. Don’t even need to go that far. Just read a text on your phone sent by someone using Voice. On a good day it can be hilarious

  7. What good is a TV remote control to a paraplegic? What good is color TV to the blind? What good is a 75 inch TV to a homeless person?

    Is it fair that some people have things that others don’t?

    Should the list of things some people have and others don’t have include brain damage? If so, why is it that only brain damaged individuals get to interpret the ADA?

  8. This is also an example of the ADA being used in ways and for purposes it was never intended for. Basically, the ADA was meant to assure equal access to buildings and facilities for handicapped people, to permit the use of service animals (no, let’s not discuss “mental health ducks”), etc. In general it has worked well. Using the law in this way is just obscene, and probably really intended just to be a back door to keep the lectures restricted to on-ground University students.

  9. > LBRY uses a new technology that operates like Bitcoin. It’s “decentralized,” meaning videos posted are stored on thousands of computers around the world.

    Imperfect analogy, John. A better one is “LBRY uses a new technology that operates like BitTorrent. It’s “decentralized,” meaning videos posted are stored on thousands of computers around the world.”

    1. ^^
      this

      its more about distributed file-sharing than it is blockchain technology

  10. As a deaf person this is something that really bothers me and a reason why I cannot support the Hearing Loss Association. I believe I should have the right to captioning, CART, or interpreters for a government situation (court, police, stuff like that). I even got hesitantly on board when it applied to medical things. However I find it harder and harder to support continued efforts on private businesses such as these. I LOVE having the ability to do these things, but I recognize that when I went deaf I lost some things and life became unfair. I do not think it’s the government’s responsibility to force others to make it fair, especially on their own dime. If the HLA wanted to fundraise and work with companies to provide captioning I would fully support it, but it’s not. It’s trying to force every company to do so and not taking into consideration the hardship and unfairness on those companies.

    The hardship and unfairness for me no one’s fault, but life isn’t fair and you damn sure don’t make it fair by forcing unfairness on others.

  11. Tuition at Berkeley is:

    In-state: $13,485
    Out-of-state: $40,167

    Vast majority of students are in-state and pay in-state tuition. FYI.

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