As the debates rage about digital content, publishers, consumers, and libraries, I was reminded of a piece on DRM I wrote years ago. In June of 2007 I published an article in School Library Journal entitled “Imagine No Restrictions: Digital Rights Management.” The opening line of my article is “We dream of a world with free access to content. In the meantime, there’s DRM.” *sigh* Sadly, that is still true.
I wrote the article as a primer for library staff on what DRM is and why it matters for libraries. In re-reading that article from long before eReaders became popular, I was struck by how applicable the ideas still are today. The article covers device compatibility, DRM as a roadblock to use, and the archival issues raised for libraries. I also provide talking points for discussing DRM and library digital content with library users…something we all end up doing, often with a frowny face and a serious sense of guilt.
If you’ll indulge me, here are two passages from the article that seemed to bear repeating, in addition to my grumpy epithet for DRM: “Despicable Rights Meddling”:
If you buy a physical version of a song or movie, you are warned about the law, but generally trusted to follow it. If you buy a digital version, however, the DRM code forces compliance.
Libraries must be part of the solution here, not the problem. With our current econtent models, we’re coming down on the wrong side of this debate—not the side of content delivery, accessibility, and customer service, like we should. Publishing companies like Springer and BWI are offering ebooks free of DRM. This is the model we should be promoting and demanding from all vendors. Otherwise we will continue to limit content to a select group of our users, and that select group will continue to get smaller as DRM becomes increasingly restrictive.
This article was a reminder to me that we’ve been discussing this issue for many years. Librarians have cared about access to digital content since digital content was invented. We have worked to educate staff and customers. We have asked for leadership from our professional organizations in legislating change or working with the Librarian of Congress to make effective changes to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
And still, we wait. But now we’re mad, we’re organized, and we’re pushing for change from all directions…not waiting for approval or sanctions from above. As a friend said to me last night, “Librarians are going all Egypt on this one.” In response to both the HarperCollins eBook licensing changes and the eBook User’s Bill of Rights we’ve seen grassroots efforts from the masses, opinions from all sides, and social media organization and information dissemination. My favorite is the Librarians Against DRM and Readers Against DRM graphics (designed by cartoonist and QuestionCopyright.org artist-in-residence Nina Paley). We’ve also seen mass media coverage on a scale I haven’t seen since the PATRIOT ACT. And it all started with opinionated librarians blogging, tweeting, and some great investigative reporting from Josh Hadro at Library Journal.
I am very happy that American Library Association is now moving forward with a game plan for advocacy, including the work of the ALA eBooks Taskforce I’m a part of. In the next couple of weeks I expect we will see more on these issues — from ALA and from librarians directly.
I encourage you to inform yourself, inform your co-workers, and push for change. Call and write to publishers, authors, and your larger library organizations like consortia or regional partnerships. Your voice matters. Your voice can indeed create change. Continue the revolution.