This is a guest post by James Hutter, a technology librarian in New York. The post was written for the 2015 International Day Against DRM.
As Defective by Design celebrates another Day Against DRM Digital Restrictions Management, many overlook the significant impact that DRM has had on public libraries and their avid readers. Today, public libraries everywhere are directly affected by DRM, by the will of book publishers or of authors, in a variety of ways. Perhaps the most common appearance of DRM technology is its frequent integration into published e-books and downloadable audiobooks as a way to prevent them from being copied or shared. The reality is that publishers and authors’ use of DRM technology in electronic works is flawed and unethical for a number of reasons—and should be argued against by library advocates throughout the world.
Entities that have decided to force published works, such as e-books and downloadable audiobooks, to integrate DRM technology have fundamentally broken the library lending model. In the past, if a library wished to share a physical book with a reader, there was little to prevent that person from enjoying the publication. Today, for that reader to enjoy an author’s work in electronic format, there will likely be significant technical hurdles that they must overcome. They must use download services that have made agreements with book publishers. Readers must own devices that are supported by the download services (and if your device isn’t supported—you are out of luck).
We exist in a reality of tight and highly limited library budgets. Yet libraries must now be willing to pay for not only the electronic publications that will be added to their collection, but also for overall access to the download service that provides those works. This is, for all purposes, to help maintain DRM’s hold over an electronic work. For many libraries, this particular cost is extremely high—sometimes prohibitively high. For libraries that may be able to afford access to the download service, they find themselves suddenly “sticker shocked” when they see that individual e-books may cost many times the price of their physical counterparts. Library staff are then angry to learn that the e-books they’ve purchased have a shelf life of 52 weeks after which they become unusable.
It is clear that this goes beyond mere inconvenience. DRM has been utilized as a weapon by book publishers to fundamentally change the library lending model and manipulate it in such a way that they can now dictate the terms of ownership. Through DRM, publishers are now licensing creative works to libraries instead of selling ownership of them. Through the combination of licensing, DRM, and tightly controlled delivery methods, publishers now dictate that an e-book “wears out” after 26 downloads and must be re-purchased (meaning the license must be renewed).
It is worth noting that some authors have released their works DRM-free and some download services have begun sharing electronic audiobooks in non-DRM format. Those that have done so should be applauded and supported. However, there is still much more that can be done, and the fight against DRM is anything but over.
Extremely tight controls, high pricing, e-books without ownership… as I sit here, I have to wonder, was DRM put into place because publishers think the library lending model is theft and our readers are thieves? DRM gives these publishers a level of control over libraries that must be reversed and the Day Against DRM raises awareness on this critical issue.
James Hutter is an opponent of DRM, an advocate of free software and supporter of electronic privacy rights, he has a love for all things library-related. The views and opinions expressed in this piece are his own. You can follow him at @james_lead on Twitter.
The chilling impact of Digital Restrictions Management in libraries is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.