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Monday, July 12, 2010

Libraries, eBooks, and the DRM Debate

As eBooks—and consequently eReaders and iPads—become more popular, it is only natural for patrons to look for their digital reading materials at their public library. However, distributing digital content may be more difficult than librarians initially thought. Sarah Houghton from San Jose Public Library chronicles some of the complications she has run into with eBooks on her blog, Librarian in Black. After struggling to load an eBook to her smartphone, she finally concludes:
“Why was my entire experience frustrating? DRM. The hurdles, apps, restrictions wouldn’t exist if there was no DRM.”
What is DRM?
“Digital Rights Management (DRM) is a generic term for access control technologies that can be used…to impose limitations on the usage of digital content and devices” (Wikipedia).
Essentially, DRM is used to prevent the transfer of digital content, in this case eBooks, between unauthorized devises. Peter Hirtle in a LibraryLaw discussion on the legality of lending eBook readers explains that most eBooks have license agreements and DRM technologies that prevent the lending of content. Therefore, libraries struggle daily with distributing eBooks to patrons, mostly due to the lack of cohesion between the many different DRM technologies. And as eBooks increase in popularity, librarians are likely to face additional difficulties.

What can be done?
While there’s much debate over how companies can protect their digital content while ensuring the utmost usability of library patrons and consumers alike, Houghton in another Librarian in Black post calls for change sooner rather than later: “we need organized lobbying to eMedia companies and publishers to create library-friendly licenses, use policies, digital rights management, and formats so that libraries can continue to act as the great sharers and equalizers in their communities.”

Additional Reading
Ebooks and Libraries: Like Peanut Butter & Chocolate or Oil & Water?
advocacy and econtent (i’m also a frustrated ebook user)
Library eBooks can be Frustrating!
eBooks and DRM: libraries advocating for what?
Librarian in Black on “Frustrating” and eBook/Audiobook Downloads
Libraries and ebooks: tough issues that it’s time to debate

What’s your stance on DRM? What experiences have you encountered with license agreements and DRM technologies?

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