May 4, 2011 12:05 PM | 0
This post comes from Melissa, a librarian here at Brooklyn Public Library.
Lots of people read eBooks. The 2010 winter holiday season provided the perfect opportunity for many of us to give our loved ones eReading devices, and the number of eReaders (both human and machine) will only keep growing. BPL, of course, is among many libraries that offer downloadable media for borrowing. (Fun fact: our vendor’s server actually shut down because of the volume of requests right after Christmas!)
Library collections already represent a tangle of business relationships, decisions for which are made to take into account efficiency, community benefit, financial constraints and research needs. But when it comes to print materials, the public (you!) doesn't really need to be affected by all that. The book or magazine is borrowable according to library loan rules—that's it. Even access to the subscription databases requires only the use of an Internet-connected computer.
But successful use of eBooks and other digital content through the library means that you need not only a valid library account but probably two personal devices (unless you're going to be reading all your eBooks on your computer). Let's not even get into the economic and environmental implications of needing so much hardware to keep up with the new horizons in publishing and reading. Let's instead talk about why today has been designated a Day Against DRM.
DRM stands for Digital Rights Management or in the glass-half-empty view, Digital Restrictions Management. There's a batch of lay-readers' definitions (part of an informal survey of e-reading habits) that are a rather enjoyable read themselves. Bear in mind that DRM is separate from copyright, but the one usually ends up being discussed in conjunction with the other.
Libraries are rather interestingly positioned on this issue (of course, I'm biased) because we might, as BPL does, subscribe to digital media collections that almost inevitably use DRM. However, given that access is something paramount to our values as well as our basic operations, we also have a responsibility to the public (again, you!) to proceed with care.
The book- (and other tangible item) lending that public libraries have done for decades gets its legal backing from the doctrine of first sale, but the world of lending materials is a more complicated place now. Copyright law, never known for its simplicity, adds to the general confusion over DRM. I have heard it said more than once that the reason most people end up pirating content is because it's easier than the alternatives.
If DRM is not effective against piracy, what might it be good for? On the reader's side, is the language of "rights" applicable here, in the sense that there could be an eBook User's Bill of Rights or a Reader's Bill of Rights for Digital Books (and note that the latter brings up important points about privacy)?
Of course, the codex—or, as you may refer to it, book—is still a vital format. BPL continues to add paper books to the collection, and we make booklists and other recommendations for readers regardless of the technology involved.
You may not want to celebrate a Day Against DRM, but do think about what you as a reader could do to make electronic texts accessible and ownable in ways that fairly compensate authors and publishers.
What new developments will the next few years bring?