I have surprisingly strong views about the efficacy, effectiveness, utility, and appropriateness of digital rights management on files, including both music and ebooks. Generally speaking, I do not agree with the powers that be (publishers) that there is a difference in “ownership” between buying something digitally and buying it in hard copy, particularly exemplified by a book. I do agree that there are different risks to the publisher, but that doesn’t mean in one I have bought it and the other I have merely paid to borrow it. I believe I have the same rights and obligations I had previously. Which means in its most basic terms that I have bought it for me and I can’t reproduce it for others, but the digital element puts two other limitations — I can’t loan it nor can I resell it. I am willing to accept those caveats, but it doesn’t mean I don’t own it. Or does it? If it is ownership in one case but modified terms of ownership in another, does that change? Of course, but as the courts are apt to rule, only insofar as it accomplishes the original goal. Of course all of that is about appropriateness. It says nothing about the utility, etc.
So when I saw an article cross-posted to The Passive Voice about libraries and DRM, I had to click through to the original piece by Mirela Roncevic on No Shelf Required. Some highlights are below but for anyone interested in how libraries are dealing with it, including links to EBSCO’s approach, etc., the whole article is awesome. There are even some decent follow-on citations at the bottom of it.
But DRM isn’t copyright. It refers to actual technology—a code or a set of codes—applied to restrict the digital use of copyrighted materials. In the publishing world, it is a way of ‘protecting’ digital books against copyright infringement and piracy, which have been a major concern to publishers since the advent of the Internet. By using protection—usually via three DRM types, Amazon for Kindle, Apple’s FairPlay for iBookstore and Adobe’s Digital Editions Protection Technology—publishers (or copyright holders) are able to control what users can and cannot do with digital content.
This means that people buying ebooks, whether for personal or institutional use, are paying for usage, not possession (as has been the case for centuries with print books). When encrypted with DRM, ebooks cannot be easily (if at all) copied or printed, viewed on multiple devices, or moved from one device to another. Further, they can only be downloaded a certain number of times (even when legally bought online) and, if necessary, blocked in certain territories around the world (or made invisible to users in certain countries). Such restrictions have given publishers and authors some peace of mind over the past two decades, but they have resulted in many inconveniences for legitimate users, including lay readers who purchase digital content on sites like Amazon and researchers who access digital content through libraries.
Not until recently have publishers started to pay closer attention to the feedback provided to librarians by end users, including students and faculty. A survey published this spring by Library Journal—whose goal was to investigate academic student ebook experience in four-year colleges, universities, graduate programs, as well as two-year or community colleges—found that 74 percent of students accessing ebooks through libraries believe there should be no restrictions placed on ebooks; 66 percent prefer to use ebooks with no restrictions; and 37 percent have taken a principled stand and only use ebooks that have no restrictions when conducting research.
Academic librarians do not shy away from expressing their concerns over the adverse effects of DRM, questioning whether it successfully combats piracy in the first place and pointing to the difficult ‘middleman’ role libraries must play in their efforts to meet the demands of their patrons on the one end and remain respectful of the publishers’ ‘rights’ on the other.
Further, libraries oppose the uses of DRM that lock readers to specific ebook formats, arguing that any institution that lawfully acquires content should be able to allow its patrons to read that content on any device and on any technology platform. Libraries also oppose DRM used to track reading patterns, giving insight into what people read, when, how and where, which jeopardizes patrons’ privacy.
A white paper published by Springer Nature in November 2017 (The OA effect: How does open access affect the usage of scholarly books?), revealed, among other findings, that Open Access books enjoy, on average, seven times more downloads, 50 percent more citations, and ten times more online mentions than paywalled titles.
One of the citations is to the American Library Association’s one-pager on DRM, and it does a great job of not only listing different types of DRM, but also some of the issues for libraries:
- Challenges balancing traditional first sale doctrine against potential liability for digital resources;
- Potential expiry dates on content can limit preservation and archival purposes, particularly for culturally and historically significant works; and,
- DRM approaches tend to limit well-established fair use, library or educational exceptions to copyright law.
I know, I know, I’m a library geek. But kudos go to ThePassiveVoice for sharing in the first place.