[e]Book escrow

I had no intention of writing yet another post about DRM today. But a new post on Boing Boing, Libraries set out to own their ebooks, has some of the same flavor as some of the posts I quoted yesterday and is a good departure (for making a few more points, and not writing any more about the topic for some time).

Today’s Boing Boing post (note their Day Against DRM post from last week) says a library in Colorado is:

buying eBooks directly from publishers and hosting them on its own platform. That platform is based on the purchase of content at discount; owning—not leasing—a copy of the file; the application of industry-standard DRM on the library’s files; multiple purchases based on demand; and a “click to buy” feature.

I think that’s exactly what Open Library is doing (maybe excepting “click to buy”; not sure what happened to “vending” mentioned when BookServer was announced). A letter to publishers from the library is fairly similar to the Internet Archive’s plea of a few days ago. Exceprt:

  • We will attach DRM when you want it. Again, the Adobe Content Server requires us to receive the file in the ePub format. If the file is “Creative Commons” and you do not require DRM, then we can offer it as a free download to as many people as want it. DRM is the default.
  • We will promote the title. Over 80% of our adult checkouts (and we checked out over 8.2 million items last year) are driven by displays. We will present e-content data (covers and descriptions) on large touch screens, computer catalogs, and a mobile application. These displays may be “built” by staff for special promotions (Westerns, Romances, Travel, etc.), automatically on the basis of use (highlighting popular titles), and automatically through a recommendation engine based on customer use and community reviews.
  • We will promote your company. See a sample press release, attached.

I did not realize libraries were so much like retail (see “driven by displays”). Disturbing, but mostly off-topic.

The letter lists two concerns, both financial. Now: give libraries discounts. Future: allow them to sell used copies. DRM is not a concern now, nor for the future. As I said a couple days ago, I appreciate the rationale for making such a deal. Librarian (and Wikimedian, etc) Phoebe Ayers explained it well almost exactly two years ago: benefit patrons (now). Ok. But this seems to me to fit what ought to be a canonical definition of non-visionary action: choosing to climb a local maximum which will be hard to climb down from, with higher peaks in full view. Sure, the trails are not known, but must exist. This “vision” aspect is one reason Internet Archive’s use of DRM is more puzzling than local libraries’ use.

Regarding “owning—not leasing—a copy of the file”, I now appreciate more a small part of the Internet Archive’s recent plea:

re-format for enduring access, and long term preservation

Are libraries actually getting books from publishers in formats ideal for these tasks? I doubt it, but if they are, that’s a very significant plus.

I dimly recall source code escrow being a hot topic in software around 25 years ago. (At which time I was reading industry rags…at my local library.) I don’t think it has been a hot topic for a long time, and I’d guess because the ability to run the software without a license manager, and to inspect, fix, and share the software right now, on demand, rather than as a failsafe mechanism, is a much, much better solution. Good thing lots of people and institutions over the last decades demanded the better solution.

3 Responses

  1. [...] protectionism in general) is not a winning strategy. There is no deterministic path for other media to follow music away from DRM, and indeed there is a threat that a faux-standard as proposed [...]

  2. […] contentious and least exciting: stop paying DRM vendors and publishers. Old posts on this: 1, 2, 3. Internet Archive is not in the position Mozilla apparently think they are, of tolerating DRM out […]

  3. […] prefix to such situations (another such is library lock-in to proprietary journal subscription and groveling for proprietary book purchases). […]

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