By Claude Almansi
- Marie-Jeanne Escure, of Le Temps, for having kindly answered questions about copyright and accessibility issues in the archives of the Journal de Genève.
- Gabriele Ghirlanda, of Unitas, for having tested the archives of the Journal de Genève with a screen reader.
What Hidden Text?
Here, “hidden text” refers to a text file combined by an application with another object (image, video etc.) in order to add functionality to that object: several web applications offer this text to the reader together with the object it enhances – DotSUB offers the transcript of video captions, for instance:
Screenshot from “Phishing Scams in Plain English” by Lee LeFever .
But in other applications, unfortunately, you get only the enhanced object, but the text enhancing it remains hidden even though it would grant access to content for people with disabilities that prevent them from using the object and would simplify enormously research and quotations for everybody.
Following are three examples of object-enhancing applications using text but keeping it hidden:
Multilingual Captioning of YouTube and Google Videos
Google offers the possibility to caption a video by uploading one or several text files with their timed transcriptions. See the YouTube example below.
Google even automatically translates the produced captions into other languages, at the user’s discretion. See the example below. (See “How to Automatically Translate Foreign-Language YouTube Videos” by Terrence O’Brien, Switch,
Nov. 3, 2008 , from which the above two screenshots were taken.) But the text files of the original captions and their automatic translations remain hidden.
Google’s Search Engine for the US Presidential Campaign Videos
During the 2008 US presidential campaign, Google beta-tested a search engine for videos on the candidates’ speeches. This search engine works on a text file produced by speech-to-text technology. See the example below.
(See “Google Elections Video Search,” Google for Educators 2008 – where you can try the search engine in the above screenshot –  and “‘In Their Own Words’: Political Videos Meet Google Speech-to-text Technology” by Arnaud Sahuguet and Ari Bezman. Official Google blog, July 14, 2008 .) But here, too, the text files on which the search engine works remain hidden.
Enhanced Text Images in Online Archives
Maybe the oddest use of hidden text is when people go to the trouble of scanning printed texts, produce both images of text and real text files from the scan, then use the text file to make the image version searchable – but hide it. It happens with Google books  and with The European Library : you can browse and search the online texts that appear as images thanks to the hidden text version, but you can’t print them or digitally copy-paste a given passage – except if the original is in the public domain: in this case, both make a real textual version available.
Therefore, using a plain text file to enhance an image of the same content, but hiding the plain text, is apparently just a way to protect copyrighted material. And this can lead to really bizarre solutions.
Olive Software ActivePaper and the Archives of Journal de Genève
On December 12, 2008, the Swiss daily Le Temps announced that for the first time in Switzerland, they were offering online “free access” to the full archives – www.letempsarchives.ch (English version at ) – of Le Journal de Genève (JdG), which, together with two other dailies, got merged into Le Temps in 1998. In English, see Ellen Wallace’s “Journal de Geneve Is First Free Online Newspaper (but It’s Dead),” GenevaLunch, Dec. 12, 2008 .
A Vademecum to the archives, available at  (7.7 Mb PDF), explains that “articles in the public domain can be saved as
images. Other articles will only be partially copied on the hard disk,” and Nicolas Dufour’s description of the archiving process in the same Vademecum gives a first clue about the reason for this oddity: “For the optical character recognition that enables searching by keywords within the text, the American company Olive Software adapted its software which had already been used by the Financial Times, the Scotsman and the Indian Times.” (These and other translations in this article are mine.)
The description of this software – ActivePaper Archive – states that it will enable publishers to “Preserve, Web-enable, and Monetize [their] Archive Content Assets” . So even if Le Temps does not actually intend to “monetize” their predecessor’s assets, the operation is still influenced by the monetizing purpose of the software they chose. Hence the hiding of the text versions on which the search engine works and the digital restriction on saving articles still under copyright.
This ActivePaper Archive solution clearly poses great problems for blind people who have to use a screen reader to access content: screen readers read text, not images.
Le Temps is aware of this: in an e-mail answer (Jan. 8, 2009) to questions about copyright and accessibility problems in the archives of JdG, Ms Marie-Jeanne Escure, in charge of reproduction authorizations at Le Temps, wrote, “Nous avons un partenariat avec la Fédération suisse des aveugles pour la consultation des archives du Temps par les aveugles. Nous sommes très sensibilisés par cette cause et la mise à disposition des archives du Journal de Genève aux aveugles fait partie de nos projets.” Translation: “We have a partnership with the Swiss federation of blind people (see ) for the consultation of the archives of Le Temps by blind people. We are strongly committed/sensitive to this cause, and the offer of the archives of Journal de Genève to blind people is part of our projects.”
What Digital Copyright Protection, Anyway?
Gabriele Ghirlanda, member of Unitas , the Swiss Italian section of the Federation of Blind people, tried the Archives of JdG. He says (e-mail, Jan. 15, 2009):
With a screenshot, the image definition was too low for ABBYY FineReader 8.0 Professional Edition [optical character recognition software] to extract a meaningful text.
But by chance, I noticed that the article presented is made of several blocs of images, for the title and for each column.
Right-clic, copy image, paste in OpenOffice; export as PDF; then I put the PDf through Abbyy Fine Reader. [...]
For a sighted person, it is no problem to create a document of good quality for each article, keeping it in image format, without having to go through OpenOffice and/or pdf. [my emphasis]
|<DIV style=”position:relative;display:block;top:0; left:0; height:521; width:1052″ xmlns:OliveXLib=”http://www.olive-soft.com/Schemes/XSLLibs” xmlns:OlvScript=”http://www.olivesoftware.com/XSLTScript” xmlns:msxsl=”urn:schemas-microsoft-com:xslt”><div id=”primImg” style=”position:absolute;top:30;left:10;” z-index=”2″><img id=”articlePicture” src=”/Repository/getimage.dll?path=JDG/1990/03/15/13/Img/Ar0130200.png” border=”0″></img></div><div id=”primImg” style=”position:absolute;top:86;left:5;” z-index=”2″><img id=”articlePicture” src=”/Repository/getimage.dll?path=JDG/1990/03/15/13/Img/Ar0130201.png” border=”0″></img></div><div id=”primImg” style=”position:absolute;top:83;left:365;” z-index=”2″><img id=”articlePicture” src=”/Repository/getimage.dll?path=JDG/1990/03/15/13/Img/Ar0130202.png” border=”0″></img></div><div id=”primImg” style=”position:absolute;top:521;left:369;” z-index=”2″><img id=”articlePicture” src=”/Repository/getimage.dll?path=JDG/1990/03/15/13/Img/Ar0130203.png” border=”0″></img></div><div id=”primImg” style=”position:absolute;top:81;left:719;” z-index=”2″><img id=”articlePicture” src=”/Repository/getimage.dll?path=JDG/1990/03/15/13/Img/Ar0130204.png” border=”0″></img></div>|
From the source code of the article used by Gabriele Ghirlanda: in red, the image files he mentions.
Unhide That Hidden Text, Please
Le Temps‘ commitment to the cause of accessibility for all and, in particular, to find a way to make the JdG archives accessible to blind people (see “Accessibility Issues” above) is laudable. But in this case, why first go through the complex process of splitting the text into several images, and theoretically prevent the download of some of these images for copyrighted texts, when this “digital copyright protection” can easily be by-passed with right-click and copy-paste?
As there already is a hidden text version of the JdG articles for powering the search engine, why not just unhide it? www.letempsarchives.ch already states that these archives are “© 2008 Le Temps SA.” This should be sufficient copyright protection.
Let’s hope that Olive ActivePaper Archive software offers this option to unhide hidden text. Not just for the archives of the JdG, but for all archives working with this software. And let’s hope, in general, that all web applications using text to enhance a non-text object will publish it. All published works are automatically protected by copyright laws anyway.
Adding an alternative accessible version just for blind people is discriminatory. According to accessibility guidelines – and common sense – alternative access for people with disabilities should only be used when there is no other way to make web content accessible. Besides, access to the text version would also simplify life for scholars – and for people using portable devices with a small screen: text can be resized far better than a puzzle of images with fixed width and height (see the source code excerpt above).
The pages linked to in this article and a few more resources are bookmarked under
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tagged: ABBYY FineReader 8.0, ActivePaper, Almansi, Ari Bezman, Arnaud Sahuguet, Claude, Digital Copyright Protection, DotSUB, Ellen Wallace, Financial Times, Gabriele Ghirlanda, GenevaLunch, Google, Google books, Google Elections Video Search, Google for Educators 2008, hidden text, In Their Own Words, Indian Times, JdG, Journal de Genève, Le Temps, Lee LeFever, Marie-Jeanne Escure, Multilingual Captioning, Nicolas Dufour, object-enhancing applications, Olive Software, Phishing Scams in Plain English, Please, Political Videos Meet Google Speech-to-text Technology, Professional Edition, Scotsman, screen reader, Screenshot, Swiss, Switch, Switzerland, Terrence O'Brien, The European Library, transcript, Unhide That Hidden Text, Unitas, Vademecum, video captions, YouTube | 3 Comments »