Library Touts Convenience Of Digital Downloads, Then Makes Them Less Convenient

from the better-than-nothing dept

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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Comments on “Library Touts Convenience Of Digital Downloads, Then Makes Them Less Convenient”

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cliff (user link) says:

The problem here

…is the pressure that publishers put on eBook to come up with a business model in which they (the publishers) get their piece of the pie. The comments about “just putting it on the publisher’s website to download” isn’t quite capturing what’s going on here. Someone is still paying for that ebook that the patron has “checked out” – to wit, the library.
What’s happening is that publishers are putting tremendous pressure on ebook providers to come up with a business model that is exactly the same as the print book model – i.e., one book for one user at a time. Thus, if you want 10 people to be able to “check out” an ebook, you are forced to purchase 10 copies of that ebook.
Add to this a general paranoia (on the part of the publishers) that “ebook sales are going to canibalize our print sales!”, and what you end up with is publishers that are holding their content hostage, refusing to allow it to be sold to ebook providers (or refusing to digitize it at all!)
Perhaps the biggest problem in this case is that the correct people aren’t being blamed (at least not by this post). I’m not certain whence NYPL gets their ebooks, but I’d be willing to bet that they purchase them from an ebook provider who, in turn, purchases them from the various publishers who are the root of the problem. NYPL is just trying to provide a valuable service to their patrons in the best way that they know how; unfortunately, publishers are making it very difficult for them to do that in the way in which it should be done.

Mark says:

digital library loans

Same deal here in Seattle — the county library system (not the city library system, though) offers audiobooks for download. They do the same, limiting the number of “copies” that can be loaned out. What makes it worse, though, is they’re using a DRM that only works on Windows computers. You’re on a Mac or Linux? Sorry! You want to listen to that file on your MP3 player? No dice! You have a PDA that you want to transfer the files to? Fat chance! You may be able to take a library book with you when you leave home, but that digital download is chained to your desktop.

Dana Powers says:

Libraries in the digital age

The problem with libraries switching to digital offerings is that the legal landscape has become completely different.
Traditionally, libraries used the doctrine of first sale to retain the freedom to amass large collections of published works and then loan them out to people. The doctrine basically gives you redistribution/sale rights to any physical copy that you’ve legally acquired. Its the same doctrine that provides the legal basis for used book shops or video rental stores.
Unfortunately it doesn’t provide any rights to generate additional copies, so libraries are struggling to find ways to simulate a “no copying” system without violating copyright law. Photocopying books at the library was also an exception (still regulated by the federal government), but it was based entirely on the individual’s responsible assertion of fair use rights.
Anyways, its a big cultural problem because most of us think – hey, internet + libraries = kickass potential, but in fact adding the internet into the equation tends to put a major legal barrier between people and information.

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