Digital Rights Management (DRM)

BBC DRM protest image

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My FaceBook friends will have noticed that my current profile picture is of an upraised fist, with the slogan “Readers against DRM”.  DRM = Digital Rights Management.  DRM is concerned with security and privacy: it is against privacy, and seeks to protect intellectual property owners to ensure that they are appropriately rewarded for their efforts in sharing their information – as well as, supposedly, to protect digital files from viruses.  Copyright is protected by using computer programs: even though you may have bought a digital file, your use of this file (i.e. the contents of the document, or the recorded information) is circumscribed by the ‘rights management’ that has been programmed into it.  This avoids copying, duplicating or forwarding information that the owner or distributor feels must be controlled to a greater or lesser extent.  In other words, as a purchaser of a digital file, you may have less use of this record than you may have had of a physical version.  This extends even to being able to read the document only on a particular e-reader.  DRM can control altering, viewing as well as copying or duplicating: in fact, anything that you might wish to do with a digital file above reading it once – or perhaps twice.

DRM therefore controls access.  It is, in a manner of speaking, the opposite of Open Access and in fact often goes beyond what current copyright legislation provides for.  In the effort to protect copyright and intellectual property, access to information becomes even more circumscribed and limited.  Games, music, ebooks or any other digital file may be subject to, and controlled by, DRM.  It is illegal to try and avoid or circumvent DRM, at least in the US:  the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) was passed in 1998,  and this makes illegal the development or use of any technology which can somehow circumvent DRM restrictions.

This has become a moral issue, as DRM is understood to restrict freedom of speech.  Organisations such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation (which has been around since the early 1990s) and understand that DRM is a restriction of civil liberties, as well as going against the principles of Free Trade.  DRM has become the digital management of rights, rather than the management of digital rights – and there is a profound difference.

So: privacy, security and protection of financial interests: these are the main motivators or raisons d’etre of DRM.  As we can see, however, these matters soon become political, in that what is privacy and security to some, may mean something inhibiting and constrictive of one’s civic or human rights.  And this is where the problem comes in as far as libraries are concerned.  Libraries seek, as a fundamental principle, to allow access as much as possible to the ideas of others, no matter where or when they were created, so that present generations can consider them.  If DRM means, as Harper Collins recently suggested, that once a library has purchased an ebook, it may only be ‘circulated’ or lent out 26 times, before access is entirely blocked.  This was done through a change in their agreement with OverDrive, a major ebook distributor.

It’s really like the old idea: if you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail.



Open Access – do you really think it’s a good idea?

Yale University's Sterling Memorial Library, a...

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I seem to have developed the habit of starting off with questions, but I think that only reflects – or perhaps even highlights – the areas about which I need to know more, or that I have not yet formed a view or understanding that is satisfactory or complete.

Open Access.  This is increasingly a phrase that is associated with ‘digital libraries‘, as much as it is with ‘Google ebooks’ and ‘scholarly communication’.  One understanding is that the results of all publicly funded – i.e. tax-funded – research should be made available freely to all.  This is considered to be a more equitable model than relying on for-profit scholarly journals to publish such materials, where neither the author, nor reviewers, nor author’s employer, nor research funder, receive any portion of the monies that are made by selling subscriptions to such journals.  Is this truly fair?  Doesn’t this mean that wealthier research institutions or nations are supporting those less privileged?  Possibly.  But what’s wrong with that?  Let us never forget that ideas or information cannot change hands like entities: they are more like phenomena in which sharing or exchanging enriches both giver and receiver.  Ideas multiply as they spread, not only proliferating but stimulating new conversations and insights.

There are more serious problems, however.  Now that we are aware that much research is culturally mediated, this would suggest that what is chosen for study, and how entities and phenomena are studied and reported, and how these results are disseminated, may all be governed by some or other hegemonic cultural code.  We would be foolish to think that ‘scientific research’ is, or can ever be, free of such biases.  Thus it would follow that the cultural expressions of scientific knowledge which are created and produced by specific cultural communities would differ, and those which are most prolific would dominate.  Ironically, as has been well documented, these communities would most commonly be found in Minority World (‘developed’) countries, who publish predominantly in English.  The knowledges of the Majority World remain, to all intents and purposes, more or less invisible, particularly in the formal research arenas.  In order to succeed, scholars from the Majority World follow Minority World traditions and mores in order to receive appropriate recognition and respect.

Another problem has come to light with the possibility that ‘Open Access’ may be a snare and a delusion.  There have now been several court cases regarding copyright issues and Google’s proposed digitisation of the library collections of many major academic libraries.  As this constitutes new legal territory which changes as the technologies change, I daresay we have not seen the end of this saga.  But there are three problems that must be resolved in such a case: firstly, will a company or companies (any company, not specifically Google or its relations and descendants) ‘own’ access to all such intellectual properties (even when they are out of copyright) simply through the access mechanisms – the digitisation protocols employed when digitising these works?  Secondly, if access is not dependent on Google’s goodwill (or payment to Google), much existing access to GoogleBooks is only possible if you are a member of the holding library’s community.  So, for example, if you are not a student or staff member of, say, Yale, you cannot digitally read in full all of the works held by the Yale University Library which Google may have already digitised.  Lastly, what will happen to such digitised collections over time?  Will Google continue to update and migrate the data as technologies change?  What if Google, as a company, ceases to exist?  I must say, at this stage it does appear rather unlikely – Google is apparently now entering the travel industry as well – but we know that empires come and empires go, and Google will probably not last nearly as long as the Roman Empire.

Another point that must be made is this: ‘Open Access’ is, to all intents and purposes, a term that can only be used in the digital environment, partly because it is so extraordinarily cheap and easy to transmit and store digital data.  In other words, if you do not have a computer, an internet connection, and a robust download allowance, you remain even more on the back foot.

Many of the decisions regarding Open Access seem to be being taken by people other than librarians (in particular), who have long wrestled with precisely the problems that Open Access once again raises.  Publishers, scholars, tertiary educational establishments, charities, technologists – all of these and more are interested in the phenomenon, but I would like to know to what extent libraries have been consulted (rather than the comments that we make to each other).  Robert Darnton recently suggested a ‘Digital Public Library‘ for the United States of America, and the discussion list on this topic has made it abundantly clear that all of these concepts are unclear and up for grabs:  What exactly do we mean when we say ‘digital’ or ‘public’ or library’ – or ‘document’ or ‘access’ or, indeed, anything else that we thought we had known?

See also: Digital Koans:

Implementing time travel for the Web

Dipping a toe in digital librarianship

Everybody’s libraries

Study queries open access benefits

Where do you stand? Why?

According to Keirsey, Oprah Winfrey may be a T...

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The debate continues: will ereading replace reading paper documents?  At a popular level, there seems to be a fairly strong move in favour of ordinary, print books – in particular.  Other types of documents may not be subject to scrutiny using the same criteria.  Oprah Winfrey, a public figure who has strongly encouraged reading through her immense influence, appears to be rather sceptical of ereading:  see, for example,

Gene Ambaum and Bill Barnes are similarly not very impressed by ereading, in spite of new and different capabilities of digital media (see, for example, ‘Inanimate Alice‘ which was referred to in a previous post on transliteracies).  At least the librarian gets some positive PR here, for a change:

Our thoughts and prayers are with the Japanese people today.  Thank goodness the Internet is helping families find each other, as well as making us aware of what is going on and what is required ( and #prayforjapan and

All the best


Internets = Parody motivator.

Image via Wikipedia Communities and collaboration – thriving as a 21st century information professional

News that’s hot

A conference is currently being held called ‘The Future of Archives Symposium’ at Missouri University.  If you or your colleagues can’t make all of the events on the day, you can watch the streaming video or, shortly after the event, watch recorded sessions at:

or stay in touch through Twitter Hashtag #mudigital or Facebook:

A full schedule of the Symposium and other details can be found at

Multidisciplinarity and collaboration

Digital Preservation

Image by zipckr via Flickr

One of the impediments to collaboration between content information professionals (librarians, records managers, archivists) and technology information professionals (computer scientists, geeks, information systems people) may be because of the feminised nature of, in particular, librarianship, and the masculinised nature of computer scientists and technology in general. Of course, these are rather large claims, but still seem to exist. Sandy Payette, chief executive officer of Duraspace was featured as the ‘Wednesday Geek Woman on Februrary 9, 2011 and recognized for her groundbreaking work on the original Fedora repository architecture as part of a research project that included collaborators at Cornell University and University of Virginia. Read the post here The post calls attention to the fact that the field of digital preservation echoes the gender disparity found in other male dominated high tech fields:

Software development around digital librarianship and digital preservation is overwhelmingly male-dominated, despite the larger numbers of women among librarians and archivists in general. Many of the women in digital preservation are Women near Tech, doing wonderful, important work, but not the fundamentals of software architecture and development. So Sandy’s contributions to the field become even more apparent given the strange gender disparities of digital preservation.”

Michele Kimpton, currently chief business officer of DuraSpace and also a notable “Geek Woman”, will assume the role of chief executive officer on March 1, 2011. Kimpton was recently featured by the Library of Congress as a “Digital Preservation Pioneer” for her work in developing entrepreneurial, community-driven and culturally sensitive approaches to creating tools and strategies in support of digital archiving ( See also for more on this topic. Perhaps gender isn’t as much of a problem as some think it is – although there is no doubt that there are still a number of gender issues in many countries: Italy, for example. I have suggested that differences in understanding the concepts of data, information and knowledge can make communication between disciplines and cultures difficult: gender may be an issue too.  What other possible obstacles do you think exist that inhibit or prevent collaboration between these disciplines/professions? All the bestSue

Just a quick one to start the week

Thank you to all of you who are following the early days of this blog.  We are hoping it will go from strength to strength.  As I learn more about the possibilities offered by WordPress, I will include them here.  What I am examining at the moment is ways in which you – as the community – can participate in a clearer way, other than by adding comments to post I may make.  In other words, I would like to have the possibility that you can initiate your own posts or pages.

Until I get that sorted, I would like to ask you to submit topics/questions/issues/whatever’s on your mind concerning ways in which all of us can work together in more collaborative ways.  Such topics might include those which must be addressed in order to facilitate working together collaboratively, or they may be topics that illustrate and describe projects that we need to (or it would be desirable for us to) work on together.  Then we can think about the different contributions that different sectors can make to such projects.

Larry Medina, a good but until now still virtual friend who lives in California and has extensive experience in managing organisational information, has suggested the idea of developing a protocol that explains and describes processes and procedures that information professionals – especially now in the digital world – should be involved in when others in an organisation (be they senior management, government, councils or whoever) decides to buy technologies, or initiate information strategies.  This protocol is not easy to describe: ‘Strategic asset management’ is one suggestion.  The gist of this notion is that information professionals (of all kinds) should be involved from the very beginning of such projects, so that all the issues relevant to us can be considered in advance and accommodated, rather than being left simply to try and play catch-up, which happens all too often, sadly.  Or is your experience different?

So I’m doing my own ‘crowd sourcing’ here – getting the opinions of a very special group of people.  Please write a couple of sentences, or a couple of words, that can get us thinking, speculating, imagining, describing.

Have a wonderful week, all.