After a library on Long Island started loaning out audio books on iPod Shuffles a couple months ago, you would have expected some library to take the next step and offer just the digital files. Now the New York Public Library system is doing just that, letting members download audio books and listen to them on PCs, burn CDs, or transfer them to portable players. This is a great idea in accommodating the listening preferences of library patrons. Of course, any digital content story is not complete without looming copyright issues. Buried at the end of the story is this line: "Users can borrow up to 10 digital books at a time, and after 21 days the materials will be automatically checked in and made available to others." We're assuming this means the library is letting only a certain number of people (one, two, ten?) "check out" a digital book at any given time and giving others access when it's "checked in" (whatever that means). This makes no sense from the perspective of the library or its members because it hobbles half the advantage of digital downloads: No single person's use of the book affects anyone else's, so hundreds of members (or more) can "check it out" and enjoy it at the same time. Perhaps the library is imposing artificial limits on digital copies to appease publishers, but even in that context it makes little sense. While this may address the publishers' inevitable "fair use" complaints, they still won't be happy about the ability to make additional copies of their audio books from the loaners. It seems the library is potentially irking both sides as much as catering to them.
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