Post Books


Monday, October 14th, 2013

Video from my conversation with Stephanie Syjuco on “intellectual property & the future of culture” at ZERO1 Garage 11 months ago is available at YouTube and (direct link to theora encoding).

As expected (see my pre-event post) the setting was great: nice space, thoughtful, well-executed and highly appropriate installation. I enjoyed the conversation; perhaps you will too.

With more time it would’ve been great to talk about some of Syjuco’s other works, many of which deal more or less directly with copying (see also interviews with Syjuco). I don’t think either of us even used the word appropriation. Nor the term “open source”, despite being in the installation title — for example, why is intersection of formal Open Source (and similar legally/voluntarily constructed commons) and art, appropriation or otherwise, vanishingly small?

ZERO1 Garage presently holds another “IP” related exhibition, Patent Pending, featuring “artworks by contemporary artists that have either resulted from, or led to, a patent that the artist has either received a patent for or is patent pending.” Sounds problematic! If you’re anywhere near San Jose, I recommend checking out the exhibition and one of its upcoming events — October 17 Post-Natural Properties: The Art of Patented Life Forms and November 1 Does the U.S. Patent System stifle innovation? As I say in the video above, and elsewhere, I hope they also consider equality and freedom.

Flow ∨ incentive 2013 anthology winner

Thursday, August 29th, 2013
Anthology Future of Copyright 2.0 cover

The Futureof Copyright 2.0 contest has a winner, published with 8 other top entries. Read the anthology PDF/EPUB/MOBI ebook, listen to an audiobook version created by me reading each entry (for the purposes of judging) on sight aloud, or individual entries linked below in my review.

A Penny for Your Thoughts by Talllama is the winner, unanimously selected by the jury. It’s a fun transposition of exactly today’s copyright and debates (including wild mischaracterization) into a future with mind uploading. Quotes:

“My mom and dad would get upset at me.” He sent her a copy of his anxiety.
“Well my dad says copyright is stupid,” Helen said, sending back an emotion that was pitying yet vaguely contemptuous. “He says anyone who won’t pirate is a dummy.”
Timothy scowled at her. “My dad says that piracy is stealing.”
“My dad and I have trillions of books and thoughts, so we know better than you,” Helen said.

“You see, Timothy,” his father continued, “If people didn’t have an incentive to think or dream, they wouldn’t. And then no one would have any new thoughts. Everyone would stop thinking because there wouldn’t be any money in it.”
“But you said people had thoughts in 1920 even though there was no copyright.”
“Yes, you’re right. What I mean is that there were no professional thinkers in those days.”
“It would be bad if people stopped thinking,” Timothy said.

Lucy’s Irrevocable, Colossal, Terrible Mistake by Chris Sakkas tells a story in which releasing stuff under a free license has amazing results. Unfortunately free licenses aren’t magic, and it isn’t clear to me what the story says about the future of copyright. Quote:

An alternative bookshop in Sussex, on the other side of the world to Lucy, created a video ad with her favourite song as its backing track. The ad ended with a thanks to Lucy for releasing her music under a free, libre and open licence and a hyperlink. Hundreds more people visited her site, the passive consumers of big business! They used the donate button on her site to spray her with filthy lucre.

Perfect Memory by Jacinto Dávila describes a world of 2089 mediated by perfect memory of all non-intimate events and voting for assignment of credit; copyright plays what role in such future? Quote:

[Socio-mathematics] was also the source of an unprecedented and fundamental agreement. All the stakeholders of the world came, after many unfortunate and even bloody events, to negotiate a new framework for producing and sharing common knowledge. And the basis they found was that to preserve freedom, but also the health of the whole planet and its species, that knowledge had to be shared, easily and readily, among all the stakeholders.

That led to a rebuttal of so-called intellectual property and copyright laws and their replacement with a body of global law acknowledging our common heritage, codependent future and the fundamental right of knowledge everyone has.

Copyrights in Chopin’s future by Krzysztof Blachnicki (English translation by Wojciech Pędzich) has Chopin resurrected in 2015 through unspecified but expensive means, then exploited by and escaping from the current recording industry. A fun idea, but ultimately a stereotypical anti-recording-industry rant. Quote:

I hope that more people will have their own opinions instead of listening to the hissing of those snakes, sucking money out of artists to pay off their new automobiles. Wake up, folks, a good musician will earn his daily bread even if he decides to let his music go for free, for all to share. A poor man will be able to listen to real music, while a wealthy man will make the artist’s effort worthwhile. Isn’t it all about just that? Each may benefit, except the music companies which become redundant, so they turn to lies in order to keep themselves afloat.

What is an author? by refined quotes is a story in which all legal ideas are closely regulated and bland, “old art” outlawed so people consume new, legal stuff, the good stuff and real artists are underground, and with an additional twist that ideas take animal form. Quote:

You see? An artist is a little like an art producer. But he deals with the genuine ideas, as you see. He doesn’t buy them, like the law says he should. He just comes to places like this and spends his time with them. It’s a slow process. No one knows why precisely, but this crazy little ideas are in love with him, well, with all the artists.

The Ambiguous Future of Copyright by HOT TOCO is a snarky take on where copyright and computing are headed, presumably meaning to project ambiguous reception of Ubuntu/Canonical ten years into the future. Quote:

Friend2: “If I can extract info from this rant, I think Commonible, Ltd, is saying they’ve perfected trusted computing, fully protecting you from hacking and making ALL media available, fully compensating all value chains.”

Friend3 (quiet one): “I read about sth like this, Project Xanaxu. Real old stuff. The inventor thought the Web failed to transclude micropayments.”

500 Years of Copyright Law by Holovision embeds current copyright factoids in description of future eras. I can’t tell what its “Copynorm Exchange Decentralization Entente (CEDE)” regime consists of, but maybe that is also a current copyright factoid: someone reading a pamphlet describing copyright and mentioning a few acronyms (eg TRIPs) would not have much sense of the regime. Quote:

Attempts to put digital rights management into 3D printers were sooner or later unsuccessful against hardware hackers. There were open sourced 3D printers but many perceived them to be inferior to the commercially patented ones. When the commercial 3D printers were used to make other printers most companies left the marketplace. This left many still infringing the 3D printers with the excuse that the printers became “abandonware”.

Copyright Protest Song by Tom Konecki doesn’t seem to say anything about the future, but does capture various bits of complaint about the current regime. Quote:

Everybody wants only money and success
And none remembers the idea of open-access
To acquire knowledge and gather information
That is now the object of companies’ manipulation.

Copyright – Real Vision or fantastic vision? by Arkadiusz Janusz (English translation by Kuba Kwiatkowski) contains a proposal of the type “metadata and tracking will get everyone paid” explained in a parent-child lecture. Quote:

The file doesn’t contain a price, only points. In other words, the price is quoted in points. A point has a different monetary value for every country. Here, the minimum wage is about 1000 dollars. We divide the minimum wage by one thousand and receive the amount value of 1 point. If you download a movie, the server checks in which country you are, and converts the points into the appropriate price.

That’s why in our times, pirates are at on the verge of extinction. Most frequently, they’re maniacs or followers of some strange ideologies.

You can also read my review of last year’s future of copyright contest anthology, which links to each selection. This year’s selections are notably less dystopian and take less of a position on what the future of copyright ought be.

I enjoyed judging this year’s contest, and hope it and any future iterations achieve much greater visibility. Current copyright debates seem to me to have an incredibly short-term focus, which can’t be for the good when changes which have supposedly produced the current debate are only speeding up. Additionally, and my one complaint about the contest other than lack of fame, is that “copyright” is a deeply suboptimal frame for thinking about its, and our, future. I will try to address this point directly soon, but some of it can be read from my contest entry of last year (other forms of info regulation with different policy goals being much more pertinent than quibbling over the appropriateness of the word “copyright”).

You may see an embedded player for the audiobook version read by me below. Some of the durations shown may be incorrect; the winner, A Penny for Your Thoughts, is actually slightly less than 15 minutes long. Sadly the player obscures the browser context menu and doesn’t provide a way to increase playback rate, so first, a default HTML5 player loaded with only the winner:

Futures of Copyrestriction 2.0

Saturday, June 1st, 2013

Last year I was impressed with Modern Poland Foundation’s crowdfunded (the prize set by donations) Future of Copyright contest — my entry and review of the winners/contest anthology. I’m honored to be on the jury for this year’s contest. Please donate (deadline July 7) to support the prize, enter your text or audiovisual work (less than 15,000 characters or 10 minutes; deadline July>August 1), and spread the word.

I really encourage reading last year’s anthology (each entry linked from my review, or all as a pdf) and note how broadly and provocatively “future of copyright” might be construed. Also, all entries are BY-SA licensed; some may be useful as remix material.

Previously I noted Modern Poland Foundation’s excellent Right to Culture campaign; also tangentially I recommend Usta (, the music of MPF president/contest juror/poet Jarosław Lipszyc, and Circulations of Culture, a report on informal sharing by another Polish NGO.

Addendum 20130706: The deadline for entering a work in the contest has been moved to August 1. The deadline for donating to support the prize is still the end of July 7, pacific time: 35 hours from the time I write this. Rules and donation info both on the same page,

The nominal goal of US$500 has been met, but more support is welcome. If you’re into patron rewards, the $50 level is probably worthwhile — good for a printed book of the top entries. Last year I donated at a similar level and was surprised to receive a thin large format volume in hard binding, scanned above. (But I have no idea what the organizers have planned this year.)

I’m looking forward to selecting the best of this year’s entries with my fellow jurors Beatriz Busaniche, Shun-Ling Chen, Jarosław Lipszyc, Joe McNamee, and Jérémie Zimmermann. Maybe yours?

Economics and The Wealth of the Commons Conference

Thursday, May 9th, 2013

The Wealth of the Commons: A world beyond market & state is finally available online in its entirety.

I’ll post a review in the fullness of time, but for now I recommend reading the 73 essays in the book (mine is not the essay I’d contribute today, but think it useful anyway) not primarily as critiques of market, state, their combination, or economics — it’s very difficult to say anything new concerning these dominant institutions. Instead read the essays as meditations, explorations, and provocations for expanding the spaces in human society — across a huge range of activity — which are ruled not via exclusivity (of property or state control) but are nonetheless governed to the extent needed to prevent depredation.

The benefits of moving to commons regimes might be characterized any number of ways, e.g., reducing transaction costs, decreasing alienation and rent seeking, increasing autonomy and solidarity. Although a nobel prize in economics has been awarded for research on certain kinds of commons, my feeling is that the class is severely under-characterized and under-valued by social scientists, and thus by almost everyone else. At the extreme we might consider all of civilization and nature as commons upon which our seemingly dominant institutions are merely froth.

Another thing to keep in mind when reading the book’s diverse essays is that the commons “paradigm” is pluralistic. I wonder the extent to which reform of any institution, dominant or otherwise, away from capture and enclosure, toward the benefit and participation of all its constituents, might be characterized as commoning?

Whatever the scope of commoning, we don’t know how to do it very well. How to provision and govern resources, even knowledge, without exclusivity and control, can boggle the mind. I suspect there is tremendous room to increase the freedom and equality of all humans through learning-by-doing (and researching) more activities in a commons-orientated way. One might say our lack of knowledge about the commons is a tragedy.

Later this month the Economics and the Commons Conference, organized by Wealth of the Commons editors David Bollier and Silke Helfrich, with Michel Bauwens, will bring together 240 researchers, practitioners, and advocates deeply enmeshed in various commons efforts. There will be overlapping streams on nature, work, money, infrastructure, and the one I’m coordinator for, knowledge.

I agreed to coordinate the stream because I found exchanges with Bollier and Helfrich stimulating (concerning my book essay, a panel on the problematic relationship of Creative Commons and commons, and subsequently), and because I’m eager to consider knowledge commoning (e.g., free software, culture, open access, copyright reform) outside of their usual venues and endlessly repeated debates, and because I feel that knowledge commons movements have failed dismally to communicate their pertinence to each other and with the rest of the world — thus I welcome the challenge and test case to communicate the pertinence of all knowledge commons movements to other self-described commoners — and finally, to learn from them.

Here are the key themes I hope we can explore in the stream:

  • All commons as knowledge commons, e.g., the shared knowledge necessary to do anything in a commons-oriented way, easily forgotten once exclusivity and control take hold.
  • Knowledge enclosure and commoning throughout history, pre-dating copyright and patent, let alone computers.
  • How to think about and collaborate with contemporary knowledge commoners outside of the contractually constructed and legal reform paradigms, eg transparency and filesharing activists.
  • How can we characterize the value of knowledge commons in ways that can be critiqued and thus are possibly convincing? What would a knowledge commons research agenda look like?
  • If we accept moving the provisioning of almost all knowledge to the commons as an achievable and necessary goal, what strategies and controversies of existing knowledge commons movements (tuned to react against burgeoning enclosure and make incremental progress, while mostly accepting the dominant “intellectual property” discourse) might be reconsidered?

This may appear vastly too much material to cover in approximately 5 hours of dedicated stream sessions, but the methodology consists of brief interventions and debates, not long presentations, and the goal is provocation of new, more commons-oriented, and more cross-cutting strategies and collaborations among knowledge commoners and others, not firm conclusions.

I aim for plenty of stream documentation and followup, but to start the public conversation (the conference has not been publicized thus far due to a hard limit on attendees; now those are settled) by asking each of the “knowledge commoner” participants to recommend a resource (article, blog post, presentation, book, website…) that will inform the conversation on one or more of the themes above. Suggestions are welcome from everyone, attending or not; leave a comment or add to the wiki. Critiques of any of the above also wanted!

Future of culture & IP & beating of books in San Jose, Thursday

Tuesday, November 13th, 2012

I’m looking forward to this “in conversation” event with artist Stephanie Syjuco. The ZERO1 Garage is a neat space, and Syjuco’s installation, FREE TEXTS: An Open Source Reading Room, is just right.

For background on my part of the conversation, perhaps read my bit on the future of copyright and my interview with Lewis Hyde, author of at least one of the treated FREE TEXTS (in the title of this post “beating of books” is a play on “beating of bounds”; see the interview, one of my favorite posts ever to the Creative Commons blog).

One of the things that makes FREE TEXTS just right is that “IP” makes for a cornucopia of irony (Irony Ponies for all?), and one of the specialty fruits therein is literature extolling the commons and free expression and problematizing copyright … subject to unmitigated copyright and expensive in time and/or money to access, let alone modify.

Even when a text is in-theory offered under a public license, thus mitigating copyright (but note, it is rare for any such mitigation to be offered), access to a digital copy is often frustrated, and access to a conveniently modified copy, almost unknown. The probability of these problems occurring reaches near certainty if a remotely traditional publisher is involved.

Two recent examples that I’m second-hand familiar with (I made small contributions). All chapters of Wealth of the Commons (Levellers Press, 2012) with the exception of one are released under the CC-BY-SA license. But only a paper version of the book is now available. I understand that digital copies (presumably for sale and gratis) will be available sometime next year. Some chapters are now available as HTML pages, including mine. The German version of the book (Transcript, 2012), published earlier this year with a slightly different selection of essays, is all CC-BY-SA and available in whole as a PDF, and some chapters as HTML pages, again including mine (but if one were to nitpick, the accompanying photo under CC-BY-NC-SA is incongruous).

The Social Media Reader (New York University Press, 2012) consists mostly of chapters under free licenses (CC-BY and CC-BY-SA) and a couple under CC-BY-NC-SA, with the collection under the last. Apparently it is selling well for such a book, but digital copies are only available with select university affiliation. Fortunately someone uploaded a PDF copy to the Internet Archive, as the licenses permit.

In the long run, these can be just annoyances and make-work, at least to the extent the books consist of material under free licenses. Free-as-in-freedom does not have to mean free-as-in-price. Even without any copyright mitigation, it’s common for digital books to be made available in various places, as FREE TEXTS highlights. Under free licenses, it becomes feasible for people to openly collaborate to make improved, modifiable, annotatable versions available in various formats. This is currently done for select books at Wikibooks (educational, neutral point of view, not original research) and Wikisource (historically significant). I don’t know of a community for this sort of work on other classes of books, but I’d be happy to hear of such, and may eventually have to start doing it if not. Obvious candidate platforms include Mediawiki, Booktype, and source-repository-per-book.

You can register for the event (gratis) in order to help determine seating and refreshments. I expect the conversation to be considerably more wide ranging than the above might imply!

Exit tweet loyalty

Friday, September 21st, 2012

Someday I will read Exit, Voice, and Loyalty (1970) and comment on pertinence to things I write about here (cf my almost due for 8 year refutation notes on The Logic of Collective Action (1965)), but I have long found the concept intuitive.

The Declaration of Twitter Independence has been quickly ridiculed. In addition to its over the top language, one way to think about why is that it seems an almost certainly futile and maybe inappropriate (Twitter won’t listen, and perhaps shouldn’t; Twitter can do whatever they want with their services) attempt at voice, accompanied with a halfhearted at best exit plan (“explore alternate platforms, giving precedence to those who do support such [muddled] principles [until Twitter adopts a more developer friendly policy]”).

“Doing it right” per the crowd I’m most familiar with (including me) is almost all exit: start developing your apps for StatusNet/OStatus and other federated and open source social web software/protocols; any voice should demand support for federation, ie facilitate exit. Twitter apologists would say Twitter is doing the right thing for the Twitter ecosystem, the complainers should deal. Twitter loyal oppositionists would say Twitter is doing its greatness a disservice with its policies and should change. I’m not sure what people who care but are in neither the federated nor Twitter apologist/loyalist camps might think, but I’d like to know.

The Declaration doesn’t lend itself to a charitable reading, I think it is worth giving it one. Regarding its futile and perhaps inappropriate attempt at voice: it is OK for customers to complain; smart companies often even listen and adjust; Twitter is now a large organization, parts of it very smart; worth a try. Regarding exit, they don’t want to, and there isn’t anyplace completely obvious for them to go, much as I’d like that to be StatusNet/OStatus; “explore alternate platforms” and wanting no limits on how data can be used and shared, and data available in standard formats all support exit, with the right amount of tentativeness. Although that charitable reading is possible, the Declaration could’ve been written much more strongly regarding all of the points discussed above. Low probability that I’ll fork it to do so.

Collaborative Futures mentions exit, voice, and loyalty in the context of free collaboration projects. It appears from the history that I didn’t write that bit, though it covers a pet concept and uses a pet phrase (configurations). That chapter is way too short, but I’m pleased in retrospect with its nuance, or rather, with the charitable readings I’m able to give it.

When I eventually return to this topic, I will probably complain that software freedom and nearby advocates are overly focused on exit, with lots of untapped potential for the movements in voice and loyalty, possibly the same for political libertarians, and that it difficult to keep in mind more than two of exit, voice, and loyalty, and the frequency of their pairings.

In the meantime a post last year by Xavier Marquez on Exit, Voice, and Legitimacy: Responses to Domination in Political Thought seems pretty reasonable to me.

For the accumulated knowledge of the human race to become the common property of every person

Thursday, July 19th, 2012

Last week Wikimania included a reception in an impressive hall at the Library of Congress. But far more impressive than the hall was the Gutenberg Bible on display, apparently one of a few complete vellum copies, and one of a few dozen known copies of any sort. I don’t recall ever feeling stunned to be in the presence of an artifact before.

After standing before the display case speechless for a bit, I read some explanatory text nearby:

Gutenberg’s invention of the mechanical printing press made it possible for the accumulated knowledge of the human race to become the common property of every person who knew how to read—an immense forward step in the emancipation of the human mind.

I can’t find a source for that text, but it has been on display for at least four years. It was incredibly apt for Wikimania, as it reads very much like the Wikimedia Foundation’s vision:

Imagine a world in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge.

Wikimania provided plenty of evidence both for how rapidly Wikimedia projects are progressing (in particular technology projects that seemed fantasies a few years ago, such as Wikidata and a visual editor, will be deployed over the next year) but also how far away humanity is from the potentials expressed above — particularly driven by bad policy, which in turn impoverishes practice — resulting in Wikipedia being unique, when instead all knowledge of all forms could be subject to mass curation and sharing.

In case I do not blog further about Wikimania: I enjoyed helping Asheesh Laroia with the pre-conference hackathon, Mayo Fuster Morell with a BoF-style meetup on digital commons, and tons of great conversations. Thanks to the organizers, all attendees, and all Wikimedians for such a great conference and movement!

Perhaps someday I will stand in the presence of the Dunhuang Diamond Sutra, the oldest printed book with a date (868CE), held in the British Library. I don’t know whether it would stun me, but I have noted a statement in its colophon:

Reverently [caused to be] made for universal free distribution by Wang Jie on behalf of his two parents on the 13th of the 4th moon of the 9th year of Xiantong.

Future of Intellectual Protectionism and not much Innovation Policy

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012

I read all of the pieces selected for a „Future of copyright” anthology resulting from a contest run by the Modern Poland Foundation (apparently the winner of a small cash prize will be announced tomorrow; I highly recommend all of the pieces below and commend the judges for their selections):

7 are fiction (the 3 exceptions are me, Spitzlinger, and Togi). 5 of these are dystopian (exceptions: Binns, Mansoux), 4 of which (exception: Żyła) involve some kind of fundamental loss of personal control as a result of intellectual protectionism (even more fundamental than drug war style enforcement involves, which Żyła’s does concern). 3 of these (exception: Eddie) involve extrapolations of DRM, 2 of which (exception: Melin) involve DRM implants.

I’d like to see versions of the dystopian stories written as IP propaganda, e.g., recast as RIAA/MPAA pieces from the future (several of the stories have funnily named future enforcement organizations in that vein). Such could be written as satire, apology, or even IP totalist advocacy (utopian rather than dystopian).

Of the dystopian stories, Solís is probably most dystopian, Eddie most humorous, and Betteridge overall best executed. Żyła needs a bit of development — the trend posited is incongruous and unexplained — but maybe due to an unknown factor to be suggested by fictional future freakonomics, or perhaps I just missed it. Melin ends with some hope, but annoys me for contemporary reasons — why would the recipient of a body part artificially grown with “open” methods be constrained in the disposition of that part by a “Creative Commons license” on those methods? Another reason to discourage use of CC licenses for hardware design.

The two non-dystopian stories take the form of a “letter from the future” in which various “open” movements and “models” win (Binns; if I had to bet on a winner of the contest, I’d put my money on this one) and an allegory for the history and projected future of copyright (Mansoux; probably the piece I enjoyed reading most).

Of the 3 non-fiction pieces, Togi is most non-standard — a rant in the form of lemmas — and fun, though briefly goes off the rails in asserting that “those entities which represent the greatest tax gain will be preferred by government.” If that were the case, all that is prohibited would instead be taxed. Statements about “revenue” leave little wiggle room, but I suppose a charitable interpretation would include in “tax gain” all rents to those influencing power, be they bootleggers, baptists, or those directly obtaining tax revenue. Spitzlinger accepts the stories my piece rejects and suggests something like the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license be the default for new works, with the possibility of additional temporary restriction (a one-year usufruct, perhaps?).

All of the pieces evince unhappiness with the current direction of information governance. Of those that reveal anything about where they stand on the reform spectrum (admitting that one dimension makes for an impoverished description of reform possibilities; that’s one of the points I hoped to communicate in my piece) I’d place Binns, Melin, and Spitzlinger away from abolition, and me, Mansoux, and Togi toward abolition.

I expect the contest and anthology to be criticized for only representing reform viewpoints. Sadly, no maximalist pieces were submitted. The most moderate reform submission didn’t follow contest rules (not a new piece, no license offered). More than alternate perspective versions of IP dystopias, I’d like to see attempts to imagine future systems which increase private returns to innovation, perhaps looking nothing like today’s copyright, patent, etc., and increase overall social welfare — I’m dubious, but please try.

Update 20120524: The two most fun and non-standard entries wonMansoux, with an honorable mention to Togi. I now must also congratulate the judges on their good taste. Read those two, or the whole anthology (pdf).

[e]Book escrow

Thursday, May 10th, 2012

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.

DRM and BookServer/Internet Archive/Open Library commentary review

Wednesday, May 9th, 2012

After posting DRM and the Churches of Universal Access to All Knowledge’s strategic plans I noticed some other mentions of DRM and BookServer/Internet Archive/Open Library. I’m dropping them here with a little bit of added commentary.

First there’s my microcarping at the launch event (2009-10-29, over 2.5 years ago). Fran Toolan blogged about the event and had a very different reaction:

The last demonstration was not a new one to me, but Raj came back on and he and Brewster demonstrated how using the Adobe ACS4 server technology, digital books can be borrowed, and protected from being over borrowed from libraries everywhere. First Brewster demonstrated the borrowing process, and then Raj tried to borrow the same book but found he couldn’t because it was already checked out. In a tip of the hat to Sony, Brewster then downloaded his borrowed text to his Sony Reader. This model protects the practice of libraries buying copies of books from publishers, and only loaning out what they have to loan. (Contrary to many publishers fears that it’s too easy to “loan” unlimited copies of e-Books from libraries).

As you’ll see (and saw in the screenshot last post) a common approach is to state that some Adobe “technology” or “software” is involved, but not say DRM.

A CNET story covering the announcement doesn’t even hint at DRM, but it does have a quote from Internet Archive founder Brewster Kahle that gives some insight into why they’re taking the approach they have (in line with what I said previous post, and see accompanying picture there):

“We’ve now gotten universal access to free (content),” Kahle added. “Now it’s time to get universal access to all knowledge, and not all of this will be free.”

A report from David Rothman missed the DRM entirely, but understands it lurks at least as an issue:

There’s also the pesky DRM question. Will the master searcher provide detailed rights information, and what if publishers insist on DRM, which is anathema to Brewster? How to handle server-dependent DRM, or will such file be hosted on publisher sites?

Apparently it isn’t, and Adobe technology to the rescue!

Nancy Herther noted DRM:

Kahle and his associates are approaching this from the perspective of creating standards and processes acceptable to all stakeholders-and that includes fair attention to digital rights management issues (DRM). […] IA’s focus is more on developing a neutral platform acceptable to all key parties and less on mapping out the digitization of the world’s books and hoping the DRM issues resolve themselves.

The first chagrined mention of DRM that I could find came over 8 months later from Petter Næss:

Quotable: “I figure libraries are one of the major pillars of civilization, and in almost every case what librarians want is what they should get” (Stewart Brand)

Bit strange to hear Brand waxing so charitable about about a system that uses DRM, given his EFF credentials, but so it goes.

2011-01-09 maiki wrote that a book page on the Open Library site claimed that “Adobe ePUB Book Rights” do not permit “reading aloud” (conjure a DRM helmet with full mask to make that literally true). I can’t replicate that screen (capture at the link). Did Open Library provide more up-front information then than it does now?

2011-03-18 waltguy posted the most critical piece I’ve seen, but closes granting the possibility of good strategy:

It looks very much like the very controlled lending model imposed by publishers on libraries. Not only does the DRM software guard against unauthorized duplication. But the one user at a time restriction means that libraries have to spend more money for additional licences to serve multiple patrons simultaneously. Just like they would have to buy more print copies if they wanted to do that.


But then why would the Open Library want to adopt such a backward-looking model for their foray into facilitating library lending of ebooks ? They do mention some advantages of scale that may benefit the nostly public libraries that have joined.


However, even give the restrictions, it may be a very smart attempt to create an open-source motivated presence in the commercial-publisher-dominated field of copyrighted ebooks distribution. Better to be part of the game to be able to influence it’s future direction, even if you look stodgy.

2011-04-15 Nate Hoffelder noted concerning a recent addition to OpenLibrary:

eBooks can be checked out from The Open Library for a period of 2 weeks. Unfortunately, this means that Smashwords eBooks now have DRM. It’s built into the system that the Open Library licensed from Overdrive, the digital library service.

In a comment, George Oates from Open Library clarified:

Hello. We thought it might be worth correcting this statement. We haven’t licensed anything from Overdrive. When you borrow a book from the Open Library lending library, there are 3 ways you can consume the book:

1) Using our BookReader software, right in the browser, nothing to download,
2) As a PDF, which does require installing the Adobe Digital Editions (ADE) software, to manage the loan (and yes, DRM), or
3) As an ePub, which also requires consumption of the book within ADE.

Just wanted to clarify that there is no licensing relationship with Overdrive, though Overdrive also manages loans using ADE. (And, if we don’t have the book available to borrow through Open Library, we link through to the Overdrive system where we know an Overdrive identifier, and so can construct a link into

This is the first use of the term “DRM” by an Internet Archive/Open Library person in connection with the service that I’ve seen (though I’d be very surprised if it was actually the first).

2011-05-04 and again 2012-02-05 Sarah Houghton mentions Open Library very favorably in posts lambasting DRM. I agree that DRM is negative and Open Library positive, but find it just a bit odd in such a post to promote a “better model” that…also uses DRM. (Granted, not every post needs to state all relevant caveats.)

2011-06-25 the Internet Archive made an announcement about expanding OpenLibrary book lending:

Any account holder can borrow up to 5 eBooks at a time, for up to 2 weeks. Books can only be borrowed by one person at a time. People can choose to borrow either an in-browser version (viewed using the Internet Archive’s BookReader web application), or a PDF or ePub version, managed by the free Adobe Digital Editions software. This new technology follows the lead of the Google eBookstore, which sells books from many publishers to be read using Google’s books-in-browsers technology. Readers can use laptops, library computers and tablet devices, including the iPad.

blogged about the announcement, using the three characters:

The open Library functions in much the same way as OverDrive. Library patrons can check out up to 5 titles at a time for a period of 2 weeks. The ebooks can be read online or on any Device or app that supports Adobe DE DRM.

2011-07-05 a public library in Kentucky posted:

The Open Library is a digital library with an enormous ammount of DRM free digital books. The books are multiple formats, ranging from PDF to plain text for the Dial-up users out there. We hope you check them out!

That’s all true, Open Library does have an enormous amount of DRM-free digital books. And a number of restricted ones.

2011-08-13 Vic Richardson posted an as far as I can tell accurate description for general readers.

Yesterday (2012-05-08) Peter Brantley of the Internet Archive answered a question about how library ebook purchases differ from individual purchases. I’ll just quote the whole thing:

Karen, this is a good question. Because ebooks are digital files, they need to be hosted somewhere in order to be made available to individuals. When you buy from Amazon, they are hosting the file for the publisher, and permit its download when you purchase it. For a library to support borrowing, it has to have the ebook file hosted on its behalf, as most libraries lack deep technical expertise; traditionally this is done by a service provider such as Overdrive. What the Internet Archive, Califa (California public library consortium), and Douglas County, Colorado are trying to do is host those files directly for their patrons. To do that, we need to get the files direct from the publisher or their intermediary distributor — in essence, we are playing the role of Amazon or Barnes & Noble, except that as a library we want people to be able to borrow for free. This sounds complicated, and it is, but then we have to introduce DRM, which is a technical protection measure that a library ebook provider has to implement in order to assure publishers that they are not risking an unacceptable loss of sales. DRM complicates the user experience considerably.

My closing comment-or-so: Keep in mind that it is difficult for libraries to purchase restricted copies when digesting good news about a publisher planning to drop DRM. The death of DRM would be good news indeed, but inevitable (for books)? I doubt it. My sense is that each step forward against DRM has been matched by two (often silent) steps back.