iCONN News

Friday, February 03, 2006

BBC NEWS | Technology | Libraries fear digital lockdown

BBC NEWS | Technology | Libraries fear digital lockdown

This is a fascinating story - one that you've all heard about before, but the way that they've expressed it in this article has helped me to crystallize my own thinking about DRM. I have to say that on a personal - non-iCONN-related - level, I'm a huge advocate of the free flow of information; the democratization of information access. And I have had concerns about how moving into the digital world affects our ability to provide information to the masses. Think about it (if you haven't already!), the way ebooks and electronic articles are provided online, they are controlled by licensing in a way that restricts their distribution far more than the way physical items are controlled.

For example, in my personal life, if I purchase a book in physical form, I can then hand it around to anybody. I don't get the publishers breathing down my neck about it - I don't get in trouble, even though it means reduced sales of that book. I bought an interesting ebook through Amazon last year, however, and I wanted to give it to a friend after I was done with it. But it was locked up on my pc, under this Microsoft DRM setup and I could not for the life of me get it to her. So unless I gave her my whole laptop, the book was useless - I'd paid the full-price (which normally would get me the endlessly multi-use physical book) for a single use! Further, I can't get to it anymore because the software has been updated and the DRM seems to be locking me out now. If my hard drive had crashed, I also would have lost access to it.

I'm not clueless - I know why publishers are nervous about peer-to-peer, given that peer-to-peer is no longer restricted by the physical, as an actual book (paper-based) would have been, but don't you think that we - consumers and libraries - are getting a raw deal on this thing? Fair use allowed libraries to exist. In the new world, fair use doesn't seem to protect us. We are unable to purchase permanent collections, only transient access. Who controls the access at all times? the database or ebook vendors... It's as though the publishers set up camp in our libraries and made sure that everyone who came to borrow books from us was - to their eyes - using the items appropriately (that they were residents of our town, etc., etc.). And we're facilitating this by agreeing to the terms - not that we have a choice, but maybe we should be a little more vocal about protecting our readers' rights and a little less concerned about protecting the vendors' rights.

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