Captioning: a Legal Mandate or Prohibition?
Federal laws, specifically the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, require that instructional materials be accessible to learners with hearing impairments or other disabilities. But making multimedia accessible—by adding captions or subtitles, or by ensuring that media player software can be controlled from the keyboard—can be a daunting task. For one thing, multimedia exists in a wide variety of formats, each with its own methods for adding accessibility features. Another challenge is copyright law, which, strictly interpreted, prohibits any conversion, copying, editing (including adding captions), or archiving of digital media by anyone other than the copyright owner. Many educators, as they navigate between these opposing sets of laws, feel caught between a rock and a hard place.
Determining Copyright Ownership
Video captioning begins with the determination of copyright ownership. If you are not the copyright owner, you should contact the owner or publisher to request a captioned version of the material. With any luck, you may not have to caption at all! If you are the copyright owner or have permission to reproduce the video, or if your use of the video would be considered “fair use” (see Note below), you will want to either caption the material yourself or hire a company to do the work for you. (The “fair use” exemption of the copyright law allows educators and artists to use portions of copyrighted works in the course of their professional duties.)