In a Library Journal article, Norman Oder explains that “libraries must pre-pay for a minimum number of downloads from Freegal, and each library user will be limited to, at most, 20 downloads per week. Libraries that see a spike in use can limit the number of system-wide downloads in a week or month to ensure wider access, and library card holders can also reserve downloads.”² In an effort to allow files to work across multiple platforms, Freegal boasts no Digital Rights Management (DRM) policies and delivers content as MP3 files.
While initially Freegal may seem like a worthwhile venture, the service does have its drawbacks:
- Freegal charges libraries per download and requires libraries to pre-pay for a minimum amount of downloads, thus subsidizing libraries’ music and eliminating any sort of permanent collection.
- Over time and especially for popular artists, libraries will end up paying significantly more for Freegal downloads than the initial cost of buying albums on CD. Additionally, libraries own the content they purchase on CD and can house that content within their collections. There’s nothing to own with Freegal.
- Because the service simply uses libraries’ websites as interfaces for content download and not content collection or hosting, Freegal forces libraries to become the middleman in what should be their own system—and music collection.
- Freegal leaves it up to the libraries to determine any sort of rights management. Therefore, if libraries aren’t savvy about their patron downloads, they could essentially give music away for permanent storage and use on their patrons’ hard drives. Thus, libraries become mechanisms for free music rather than public sources for lending.
While there’s no denying that digital music might be the way of the future, one must wonder: Is Freegal a sustainable service for libraries to consider? With Freegal, instead of paying for a product once and circulating it 1000 times, the library must regulate downloads and renew monetary commitments when the pre-pay runs out. Essentially, Freegal forces libraries to subsidize their patrons' music collections.
What are your thoughts on pay-per-download services like Freegal and digital content? What issues have you or patrons encountered with DRM and usability? Post your views here as comments.