libraries and DRM

The Listening Post blog over at Wired has an interesting little post about libraries that use Overdrive to “check out” digital content. The content only plays on Windows machines and comes with Digital Rights Management that tries to prevent copying and using materials past its built in due date. More interesting is the comments where people debate whether using DRM in cases like this is actually completely appropriate, or a totally unnecessary inconvenience to library patrons. [del.net]

librarian mention in the movies

Yesterday, an 80-year-old librarian broke my penis.” (link 100% safe for work unless the word penis isn’t safe for work, in which case you’re sort of screwed already aren’t you?)

fair but wrong, some thoughts about DRM from the British Library among others

British Library says that DRM makes it tough to do its job.

Libraries are allowed to give access to, copy and distribute items through “fair dealing” and “library privilege” clauses in copyright law.

But as publishers attempt to stop the public illegally sharing books and articles, the DRM they employ may not cater for libraries’ legal uses.

“We have genuinely tried to maintain that balance between the public interest and respecting rights holders,” Dr Clive Field, the British Library’s director of scholarships and collections told the BBC News website.

“We are genuinely concerned that technology inadvertently may be disturbing that balance, and that would be unhelpful ultimately to the national interest.”

Don’t stop with the BBC story, go read the entire Libraries and Archives Copyright Alliance’s submission to the All Party Parliamentary Internet Group. A list of other responders is here (what a URL, huh?). Please make sure to notice who is covering the cost of providing the transcripts for these sessions…. and worry.

This wiki has more information on the people who submitted evidence to the hearing. I was going to email David Weinberger, whose name I noticed on the previous list, to see what he wrote about DRM but the wiki has links to his two articles “Copy Protection Is a Crime …against humanity. Society is based on bending the rules.” and, from that same wiki “Fair but Wrong

Of course artists should be paid for their work, but behind the “It’s only fair” plea is an assumption the fairness consists of an equal exchange of value. If you pay for leather shoes and the store gives you leather shoes, then the exchange was fair. If, you pay leather prices for plastic shoes, the exchange was unfair. So the advocates of fairness propose making just a few changes to the Internet – which actually amount to redoing its basic architecture – that will ensure that artists are paid for the value their work creates.

But, it’s important to remember that that’s not how it works in the real world. If you buy a book, you can read it twice without paying the author again. You can lend it to a friend. She can sell it to a used bookstore. You and others just keep getting more and more value from the book, but the original bookstore, the author and the publisher don’t see a penny of that. All of those uses fail the “It’s not fair!” argument.

two posts on michigan library tech

Two worthwhile stories from Ed Vielmetti’s blog Vacuum.

  1. Sony rootkit music off the Ann Arbor District Library’s purchase list – a story about Ed’s librarian telling him of their decision to not buy music from Sony that installs “rootkit like” technology. These music CDs install nefarious software on a user’s system, ostenisbly to prevent illegal copying, and DRM circumvention and is highly controversial.
  2. Interlibrary loan system MiLE in Michigan irrecoverably hacked – hacking is malicious vandalism, granted, but this is a confidence shaking security breach. Electronic ILL service in a good deal of Southeastern Michagan is broken beyond recovery until the roll-out of the next version of the software, at least a month away. This is a large-scale failure that should have been avoidable. Disasters sometimes happen. Are you preapred for yours? Joyhn Blyberg from the Ann Arbor District Library outlines steps libraries should take to secure their system, not later, now.

don’t own your textbooks, rent them!

Princeton University is experimenting with textbooks that have Digital Rights Management embedded in them. They have a lot of nerve calling a textbook that expires in five months “universal”. The press release states that students “save money” though it does seem to be comparing apples and oranges. Sure, textbooks are expensive and can be of limited use once classes are over but at least you own the darned things and can resell them or do whatever you want with them. And if you don’t have your own computer just make sure you can use the same one in the lab every time you visit because you can only load your textbook on to one computer, period. No returns. Not accessible via dial-up. How dare they say “the information is the same as the print version” although I guess as a profession we haven’t had to deal with information that expires now have we? Perhaps it’s time we start.

update: it’s not the school it’s the bookstore that is running this DRMed ebook experiment according to an update on the post. Different thing, different import. Ed Felten, who works at Princeton posted some comments “I don’t object to other people wasting their money developing products that consumers won’t want. …The problem with DRM is not that bad products can be offered, but that public policy sometimes protects bad products by thwarting the free market and the free flow of ideas. The market will kill DRM, if the market is allowed to operate.”

Jenny uses her librarian superpowers for good

I talked to Jenny a bit at ALA about Digital Rights Management and the ListenIllinois project. I was concerned, as she was, about the interoperability of the ebooks that the program provides, and the fact that their books won’t play on iPods, among other platforms and hardware device options. Luckily for ListenIllinois patrons, Jenny was in a prime position to do something about it. Her solution, though admittedly imperfect, is a glorious example of a librarian seeing a problem or an inequality of access, deciding that it needs to be fixed and setting policy to address that inequality: libraries that join the ListenIllinois contract now need to purchase at least one MP3 player to circulate audiobooks to patrons. I applaud her decision, her plan, and her dedication to explaining it and trying to err on the side of inclusivity and access instead of shrugging and saying “well, what can you do?”

It’s a proven fact that libraries help bridge the digital divide, and now we need to step up and help bridge what is a growing digital audiobook divide. It’s simply unethical to say you’re not going to circulate players because it would be too much of a hassle for your staff. This is the future format of audiobooks, and we need to make them available to everyone, especially because there are some titles that are available exclusively in this format. There are so many reasons to circulate your own players right now that it’s almost a crime not to. If you look at it from a PR standpoint, do you really want to be the one standing up in front of the microphone explaining why you couldn’t spend $70 on one measly player for those patrons that don’t have one of their own?

threats to digital information

JD Lasica’s list of Top 10 assaults on digital liberties could just as easily be titled “Top 10 assaults on digital libraries” as diglet rightly points out. Of particular note to libraries is #10. I’ve been hearing more and more about libraries being strongarmed into consortia that requires them to forego IT and filtering decisionmaking, independent collection development and in some cases even in-house cataloging staff. Keep your eyes open to changed in your digital information environment, and the legislation that constantly surrounds it, so that you can be an advocate for access by your patrons.

some great DRM examples

Two examples of how smart people who are good with technology have gotten setbacks from doing perfectly legal things with digital media saddled with DRM. Read: Jenny the Shifted Librarian tries to watch a movie and Hilary, Rosen, former head of the RIAA tries to listen to music.

You can’t have it both ways Miss Rosen. If you want DRM, someone is going to have to control that DRM. And if you don’t think they won’t use that control to their ultimate advantage, you obviously didn’t learn anything from your association with the music industry.

[thanks alan]

ALA wins lawsuit over broadcast flag

Big big news. The American Library Association, Electronic Frontier Foundation and friends just won their joint challenge to the FCCs weird Broadcast Flag regulations, decision can be read here. Not only does this mean that the FCC has to back off from trying to require all digital video receivers to have special Digital Rights Management embedded [that's Congress's job, the courts say, if they choose to do it] but the courts also agreed that the ALA, and by extention librarians and educators, had standing to file this case in the first place. Here’s an example from one of the librarian’s affadavits cited in the decision.

There is clearly a substantial probability that, if enforced, the Flag Order will immediately harm the concrete and particularized interests of the NCSU Libraries. Absent the Flag Order, the Libraries will continue to assist NCSU faculty members make broadcast clips available to students in distanceeducation courses via the Internet, but there is a substantial probability that the Libraries will be unable to do this if the Flag Order takes effect. It is also beyond dispute that, if this court vacates the Flag Order, the Libraries will be able to continue to assist faculty members lawfully redistribute broadcast clips to their students.

Get more links and some discussion here, plus the great quote from the decision “Congress does not…hide elephants in mouseholes.”

DRM and Libraries, what is useful to know

Proprietary formats — whether it’s Windows or Mac — are one of the big issues with ebooks and, therefore, ebooks in libraries. Here is one patron’s response to their library system going with Windows Media format ebooks that won’t play on Macs or Linux machines. He worked out a song with a friend: Your Audio Book Sounds Silent to Me [listen to it, it's short and fun]. Phil works on digital divide and digital minorities generally. I happen to have read his notes about the song the day he also posted Trying to Update this Site from a Computer at a Public Library. Fascinating.

Do you know who is getting the shortest end of this stick? The tenants in affordable housing units in Northern Virginia where GNU/Linux computer labs have been set up for them to use. Many of these tenants are hardworking immigrant families. Could the adults and children in these families benefit from greater access to audio books? You tell me. “Sorry, buster, you’re a digital minority. No audio books for you. Here, let me relieve you of your taxpayer dollars all the same.” How about this for irony — one of the books currently inaccessible? Martin Luther King, Jr., On Leadership: Inspiration & Wisdom for Challenging Times, by Donald T. Phillips. I hear it’s a good book.

[tametheweb]