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Scribd Faces Setback in Lawsuit Over Accessibility

4698377528_78c5f4a88b_n[1]District Court Judge William Sessions ruled on Thursday that the ADA lawsuit filed against Scribd will be moving forward.

As regular readers of this blog know, Scribd offers a subscription ebook service where users can pay $9 a month to read as many titles as they like. It’s a good service, and judging by the latest funding round, it’s also a popular one.

But it’s not accessible to the visually disabled, hence the lawsuit.

The story got little press attention at the time (I missed it completely), but in July 2014 Scribd was sued by lawyers working on behalf of a blind Vermont woman, Heidi Viens. The lawsuit alleges that Scribd violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by depriving blind readers access to its online service.

This lawsuit came across my desk on Thursday when a reader tipped me to Scribd losing its motion to dismiss. (Thanks, Rebecca!)

Scribd had argued that "the ADA does not apply to website operators whose goods or services are not made available at a physical location open to the public". While it might sound ridiculous that a website wouldn’t be included under the ADA, there is precedent to support the argument (see Young v Facebook, Earll v Ebay, etc).

Judge Sessions disagreed. He concluded in his ruling that (PDF) that "The
fact that the ADA does not include web-based services as a specific example of a public accommodation is irrelevant because such services did not exist when the ADA was passed and because Congress intended the ADA to adapt to changes in technology."

And so the lawsuit is moving forward to its inevitable conclusion. Scribd is going to lose, and well they should.

The law is clear on this point, and what with the $22 million in capital which Scribd raised in December 2014 Scribd has both the means and the ability to comply with the ADA.

The fact that they would rather fight it out in court rather than invest in an accessible service is simply reprehensible.

image by quinn.anya

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Becki March 20, 2015 um 11:26 am

Just read a post on Model View Culture about the inaccessibility of most websites, videos and games to those with visual and other impairments. Wonder if this lawsuit will finally force companies to make their web pages accessible to all?

Nate Hoffelder March 20, 2015 um 11:40 am

Thanks for pointing me at that article; I hadn’t heard about it yet.

I doubt this lawsuit is going to have much affect on any company other than Scribd. If a company isn’t willing to spend the money to offer accessible services then the only way to chang etheir mind is to use a lawsuit to hit them in the pocketbook.

This suit is only going to hit Scribd’s pocketbook, and it will be largely ignored by similar offenders.

Vick March 20, 2015 um 5:01 pm

This lawsuit isn’t just about Scribd. The lawsuit is basically asking if the ADA should apply to the internet. The implications are pretty huge if the judges rule in favor of the plaintiffs. The companies can choose users with disabilities , but the companies can’t ignore the feds if the feds decide that the ADA applies to the internet.

Nate Hoffelder March 20, 2015 um 5:56 pm

And here’s a point which confuses me: I thought the ADA _already_ applied to the internet.

There are specific accessibility regulations which require internet services to be accessible. I know this because I’ve written about ereaders getting an annual exemption from that regulation (here, here).

That regulation was written under the 21cCVAA, which was intended to expand the ADA, modernize it, and make it more effective.

Medium Punch March 20, 2015 um 4:46 pm

Yeah, ever since I became a volunteer at a library for the visually impaired & disable, and work partially with web accessibility for a few years now, I’m still sometimes stunned how inaccessible our digital era can be to the disabled. Sometimes willfully so.

And sometimes the public doesn’t care since it’s not them, as I recall comments to one lawsuit about MIT and online transcripts.

But I doubt other non-government sites or groups will start looking at their accessibility status should scribd rightfully lose. I can see the usual myriad of excuses as to why they shouldn’t, can’t, or don’t want to be bothered with the task. =/

dave March 22, 2015 um 3:17 pm

Silly of scribd to spend their money on lawyers instead of accessibility. Now they face having to spend on both.

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Me April 22, 2016 um 8:48 pm

Well, it isn’t like scribd is anything more than ThePirateBay with a better legal team and a long term strategy to get people to buy pirated material.

They really should lose upto 50million dollars and be forever pushed into the blackhole of permadeath.

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