The Right to Read

59 Pages Posted: 19 Jul 2014 Last revised: 13 Dec 2015

See all articles by Lea Bishop

Lea Bishop

Indiana University - Robert H. McKinney School of Law; Yale University - Yale Information Society Project

Date Written: September 10, 2015


Reading – for education and for pleasure – may be framed as a personal indulgence, a moral virtue, or even a civic duty. What are the implications of framing reading as a human right? Although novel, the rights-based frame finds strong support in international human rights law. The right to read need not be defended as a “new” human right. Rather, it can be located at the intersection of more familiar guarantees. Well-established rights to education, science, culture, and freedom of expression, among others, provide the necessary normative support for recognizing a universal right to read as already implicit in international law. This Article is the first to call for recognition of a right to read. Once recognized in principle, it remains necessary to translate the right to read from a vague ideal into concrete content. As a starting point, the right to read requires that every person be entitled to education for literacy and the liberty to freely choose the reading material they prefer. The right to read also means that everyone must have access to an adequate supply of reading material. Law and policy must be designed to ensure that books, ebooks, and other reading materials are made widely available and affordable – even to the poor and to speakers of minority languages. Reframing reading as a human right ultimately points to a reorientation of copyright law, as well as obligations upon publishers and technology companies to facilitate access for readers of all income levels and in every language. The conceptual elaboration of the right to read also holds lessons for rights theorists and advocates, as an illustration of an “intersectional” approach to human rights scholarship and advocacy.

Keywords: human rights, books, reading, copyright, education, socioeconomic rights, right to education, language, neglected languages, progressive realization

Suggested Citation

Bishop (formerly Shaver), Lea, The Right to Read (September 10, 2015). Columbia Journal of Transnational Law, Vol. 54, No. 1, pp. 1-58, 2015, Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law Research Paper No. 2015-4, Available at SSRN: or

Lea Bishop (formerly Shaver) (Contact Author)

Indiana University - Robert H. McKinney School of Law ( email )


Yale University - Yale Information Society Project ( email )

127 Wall Street
New Haven, CT 06511
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