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The Chafee Amendment: 17 U.S.C. 121

August 2019


The free national library program of reading materials for print-disabled individuals administered by the National Library Service (NLS), Library of Congress, was established by an act of Congress in 1931. Originally established to provide books for blind adults, the program was expanded in 1952 to include blind children, in 1962 to include music materials, and in 1966 to include individuals with physical impairments that prevent the reading of standard print.

Initially, this program was dependent upon the cooperation of authors and publishers who granted NLS permission to select and reproduce in special formats copyrighted works without royalty. Although many factors influence the length of time it takes to make a print book accessible in a specialized format, the period required to obtain permission from the copyright holder was sometimes significant.

Enactment into Law

Under the Legislative Branch Appropriations Bill, H.R. 3754, Congress approved a measure, introduced by Senator John H. Chafee (R-R.I.) on July 29, 1996, that provides for an exemption affecting the NLS program. On September 16, 1996, the bill was signed into law by President Clinton.

The Chafee Amendment to chapter 1 of title 17, United States Code, adds section 121, establishing a limitation on the exclusive rights in copyrighted works. The amendment allows authorized entities to reproduce or distribute copies or phonorecords of previously published literary or musical works in accessible formats exclusively for use by print-disabled persons. The Chafee Amendment has been amended several times, most recently in 2018 by the Marrakesh Treaty Implementation Act. Among other things, the 2018 amendment expanded the works covered by the Chafee Amendment from nondramatic literary works to all literary and musical works.

Text of the Law

In its current form, the Chafee Amendment reads as follows:

§ 121. Limitations on exclusive rights: Reproduction for blind or other people with disabilities

(a) Notwithstanding the provisions of section 106, it is not an infringement of copyright for an authorized entity to reproduce or to distribute in the United States copies or phonorecords of a previously published literary work or of a previously published musical work that has been fixed in the form of text or notation if such copies or phonorecords are reproduced or distributed in accessible formats exclusively for use by eligible persons.

(b)(1) Copies or phonorecords to which this section applies shall-

(A) not be reproduced or distributed in the United States in a format other than an accessible format exclusively for use by eligible persons;

(B) bear a notice that any further reproduction or distribution in a format other than an accessible format is an infringement; and

(C) include a copyright notice identifying the copyright owner and the date of the original publication.

(2) The provisions of this subsection shall not apply to standardized, secure, or norm-referenced tests and related testing material, or to computer programs, except the portions thereof that are in conventional human language (including descriptions of pictorial works) and displayed to users in the ordinary course of using the computer programs.

(c) Notwithstanding the provisions of section 106, it is not an infringement of copyright for a publisher of print instructional materials for use in elementary or secondary schools to create and distribute to the National Instructional Materials Access Center copies of the electronic files described in sections 612(a)(23)(C), 613(a)(6), and section 674(e) of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act that contain the contents of print instructional materials using the National Instructional Material Accessibility Standard (as defined in section 674(e)(3) of that Act), if-

(1) the inclusion of the contents of such print instructional materials is required by any State educational agency or local educational agency;

(2) the publisher had the right to publish such print instructional materials in print formats; and

(3) such copies are used solely for reproduction or distribution of the contents of such print instructional materials in accessible formats.

(d) For purposes of this section, the term-

(1) “accessible format” means an alternative manner or form that gives an eligible person access to the work when the copy or phonorecord in the accessible format is used exclusively by the eligible person to permit him or her to have access as feasibly and comfortably as a person without such disability as described in paragraph (3);

(2) “authorized entity” means a nonprofit organization or a governmental agency that has a primary mission to provide specialized services relating to training, education, or adaptive reading or information access needs of blind or other persons with disabilities;

(3) “eligible person” means an individual who, regardless of any other disability-

(A) is blind;

(B) has a visual impairment or perceptual or reading disability that cannot be improved to give visual function substantially equivalent to that of a person who has no such impairment or disability and so is unable to read printed works to substantially the same degree as a person without an impairment or disability; or

(C) is otherwise unable, through physical disability, to hold or manipulate a book or to focus or move the eyes to the extent that would be normally acceptable for reading; and

(4) “print instructional materials” has the meaning given under section 674(e)(3)(C) of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Where should I direct questions concerning the Chafee Amendment?

Please note that NLS cannot provide legal advice. Questions originating from the media should be directed to the Library of Congress Communications Office at (202) 707-2905 or [email protected] Contact the United States Copyright Office at (202) 707-3000 or via for other general questions.