Saturday, February 26, 2011

Putting DRM on Blast: HarperCollins and Libraries

On Friday, February 25th, the library-centric part of the internet caught fire. Why? Because HarperCollins decided that after one of their e-books is checked out more than 26 times, it will self-destruct. Meaning that a library that has purchased that e-book will have to buy it again, and again, and again. All of this in an era in which library budgets are being cut to the bone.

Why 26 times?

the 26 circulation limit was arrived at after considering a number of factors, including the average lifespan of a print book, and wear and tear on circulating copies.

I work in a library without a lot of e-books, or books that circulate, which is a long story, best saved for later, but we’ve got books, real, paper books, that are checked out more than 26 times. For me, this aggression will not stand, man, so here’s what I’m going to do about it.

The software that allows HarperCollins to “turn off” an e-book is called Digital Rights Management, or DRM. Not every library is in position to do what I’m about to propose, and I understand that, but as an academic librarian in charge of purchasing, I’m done with DRM. I will not purchase anything with DRM restrictions for my place of work, effective immediately.

Many public libraries won’t be able to do this. They have much tougher competition, like other public libraries nearby,, Barnes and Noble, or Borders if the local one has been spared, or mom n’ pop or alternative bookstores if you live in a city or hip college town. But public libraries can still do something.*

But I work in an academic library; my audience is more captive than that of a public library, and our user population is on its way to becoming more educated. My refusal to buy DRM is now part of that education. I don’t want patrons involved in the librarians’ dilemma of access vs. ownership; it’s unseemly, and access usually wins. But not this time.

Side note: while HarperCollins was doing the above, I had lunch at a conference with some music librarians who complained that the only existing recordings of some audio/visual materials were in iTunes, trapped behind Apple’s DRM instead of being “in a library.” I pointed out that by any modern definition, iTunes is a library. There are different kinds of libraries that serve different groups. One of the scoffers was an academic music librarian. It costs approximately $35,000 in out-of-state tuition to access the library where he works, while anyone with a computer, an internet connection, and a credit card can gain entry to the iTunes library. Which model is closer to the Carnegian ideal type? Food for thought.

*Sorry, folks, but it’s back to advocacy. Always back to advocacy.

Let HarperCollins know what you think of their shortsighted decision.

Let American Library Association President Roberta Stevens know what you think of HarperCollins shortsighted decision.

Let the authors who write under HarperCollins know as well.

Educate your patrons. They can be allies in this fight.

Want more? Go here.

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