Posted by: Memo | May 13, 2008

Libraries and DRM: what’s the story?

Found this post on BoingBoing re DRM (digital rights management), and the movement by this group to pressure libraries to stop using DRM in their collections.

But let’s back up a bit. What is, actually, this digital rights management? This is Wikipedia’s definition:

Digital rights management (DRM) is an umbrella term that refers to access control technologies used by publishers and copyright holders to limit usage of digital media or devices. It may also refer to restrictions associated with specific instances of digital works or devices. DRM overlaps with software copy protection to some extent, however the term “DRM” is usually applied to creative media (music, films, etc.) whereas the term “copy protection” tends to refer to copy protection mechanisms in computer software.

This is from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, “…the leading civil liberties group defending your rights in the digital world.”:

Major entertainment companies are using “digital rights management,” or DRM (aka content or copy protection), to lock up your digital media. These DRM technologies do nothing to stop copyright pirates, but instead end up interfering with fans’ lawful use of music, movies, and other copyrighted works. DRM can prevent you from making back ups of your DVDs and music downloaded from online stores, recording your favorite TV programs, using the portable media player of your choice, remixing clips of movies into your own home movies, and much more.

From the Microsoft Windows Media page:

Windows Media Digital Rights Management (DRM) is a proven platform to protect and securely deliver content for playback on computers, portable devices, and network devices. The latest version offers increased flexibility to support a wide range of business models that provide consumers even greater access to protected audio and video content.

This article from the BBC online’s Q & A on DRM discusses the very issues on how libraries must, of course, adhere to contractual obligations in providing access to their digital resources:

As custodians of human memory, a number would keep digital works in perpetuity and may need to be able to transfer them to other formats in order to preserve them and make the content fully accessible and usable once out of copyright.

In its written submission to the group, the British Library said DRM must not “exert excessive control on access to information.

This will fundamentally threaten the longstanding and accepted concepts of fair dealing and library privilege and undermine, or even prevent, legitimate public good access.

I don’t know how this might be possible, for libraries to provide the kind of content (highly steeped in DRM)–and here we’re talking everything form music CDs to videos to e-audiobooks–in a way that allows people to store and/or share it with others. Libraries, after all, provide what their communities want, and much, if not all of that content is protected under DRM policies. And what can libraries do, really? Budgets are tightly controlled at various levels of government, there’s always a demand for popular music/videos/e-audiobooks, and more and more content is being made available in digital format.

I don’t know if libraries can do much about it, but the communities they serve can certainly create enough noise that corporations and vendors will notice enough to start making changes. What do you think?

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