More on eBooks, DRM, and libraries

I turn on my comments and look what happens. I get Walt Crawford pointing me to his response to my post regarding Alan Wexelblat’s opinion. I guess that leaves me to attempt to explain my position in a coherent way. Here goes:

My biggest problem with the DRM-based expiration of eAudioBooks, or other digital items for that matter, is who gets to decide when they expire. Walt makes the point that the “library’s paid for the right to have one copy of the audio ebook in use at any one time. How is that different than lending a book?” It’s different because of who has the control. In the case of a physical book, the library invokes the right of first sale, giving them the right to loan it out as they see fit. Yes, the library loans it for a limited period but that’s the library’s choice. Some libraries allow for two weeks, some allow renewals (usually a finite number of times,) while other libraries allow patrons to check out items indefinitely, only to be recalled when requested by another patron (i.e. for a professor or Ph.D. student at a university.)

The problem with these eAudioBooks is that the publisher is imposing their will on the library and, in the end, on the patron. The library has been taken out of the process. Sure, we could decide to challenge this practice by not spending our money on the product, but where does that leave the library and the patron; without the material they’re looking for. Not exactly great customer service.

Ultimately, we’re stuck. The books are restricted by DRM, and don’t work on all devices. (I’m an iPod owner and I’m SOL.) We buy them because they’re the only option and when presented with a take-it-or-leave-it decision, people are going to be more than happy to point out the flaws.

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Michael Sauers

Michael Sauers is currently the Technology Innovation Librarian for the Nebraska Library Commission in Lincoln, Nebraska and has been training librarians in technology for more than 15 years. He has also been a public library trustee, a bookstore manager for a library friends group, a reference librarian, serials cataloger, technology consultant, and bookseller. He earned his MLS in 1995 from the University at Albany’s School of Information Science and Policy. Michael’s twelfth book, Google Search Secrets (w/ Christa Burns) was published October 2013 and has two more books on the way. He has also written dozens of articles for various journals and magazines. In his spare time he blogs at, runs Web sites for authors and historical societies, takes many, many photos, and reads more than 100 books a year.

One thought on “More on eBooks, DRM, and libraries”

  1. Fair enough. You’re not objecting to the one-use-at-a-time limit (which the Copyfight post explicitly is), but to the publisher/distributor deciding the circulation period. I’d think that it should be possible to set up an audio ebook collection with any circulation period the library wanted (it *should* be, that is), but still only one at a time.

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