My motivation and FOI request to my University about the British Library’s DRM

Dictated to Arcturus

I have made a Freedom Of Information (FOI) request to the University Library (UL) in Cambridge asking them for the policies, practices and technology that apply to electronic materials supplied by the British Library (BL). You may ask why I didn’t simply mail or ring up the University Librarian (our group has had cordial and productive links with the UL over several years including JISC funded projects such as SPECTRa and SPECTRa-T). This is because I want the replies to be a matter of public record at the receiving end of material from the BL. I wish to find out which policies have been dictated by the British library, which have been negotiated between the two institutions and which have been introduced by the UL.

The precise question can be found on the whatdotheyknow site run by MySociety.

Digital Rights Management and regulations for material supplied by the British Library

I copy it below in full, but first let me give my motivation. I have been talking with a number of people including a senior UK academic scientist, who believe that the BL imposes a totally unacceptable policy of digital rights management (DRM). I have not personally requested material that has been delivered under this system and I do not wish to reveal confidential information from my informants nor do I wish to categorically assert practices which I have only heard at second hand. Therefore I have made a request to my own university for their practices and policies, and used the freedom of information process so that it is visible to the whole world. it can be compared with practices at other institutions. I would be grateful for input from other academics and librarians if they are prepared to enter the political arena.

I have given a summary of what I believe to be the practices as reported by my informants. If this is substantially correct then I believe the DRM practice of the BL to be totally unacceptable, and will start to campaign for it to be changed as soon as possible.

FOI request:

Digital Rights Management and regulations for material supplied by the British Library

I am requesting information about Digital Rights Management and
regulations imposed by (a) the British Library (BL) and (b) the
university on electronic material supplied by the BL. I am doing
this through FOI because I am simultaneously asking the BL many of
the same questions and I wish all replies to be public.

The issue is epitomised by Interlibrary loans (ILL) where a reader
requests a copy of a book or journal article obtainable from the
BL. From experience at other Universities it appears that policies
have recently been introduced that impose Digital Rights Management
(DRM) on the material and there are other restrictions. I believe
that these represent a serious reduction in academic freedom but I
need to know from you and the BL the precise details. I have
therefore provided a lettered/numbered series of questions. I would
be grateful for correction of any errors on my part. If the
regulations are published openly by the UL I would be grateful for
the URL. In all answers I would like to know which regulations or
practices are imposed by the BL and whether these are negotiable or
have been negotiated between the institutions.

(a) Can you provide the regulations for copying and reuse if a
reader obtains a physical copy of a book or article from the BL (i)
out of copyright (ii) in copyright. For example can a reader “make
unlimited copies of a work out of copyright for their research and
share the work with collaborators”

(b) what is the procedure when the library or reader obtains an
electronic copy of the material? My current understanding is that
the BL’s policy, regulations and technology means that:
(i) The material is DRM’ed, i.e. cannot be read without special
software supplied only by the BL and which does not run on all
(ii) the material can only be viewed ONCE (i.e. unless the reader
does everything necessary at first reading they are unable to
re-read the document once closed.
(iii) that the material is only available for a very limited period
and may not be saved to disk or cut-and-pasted. It may only be
printed and then only once. If the reader cannot print it first
time they are never able to do so.
(iv) there are severe restrictions on to whom (if anyone) the
material may be shown to.
(v) these restrictions apply even to out-of-copyright material

I would be grateful for the exact wording supplied to readers.

If any of my concerns about DRM and restricted access are
substantially correct I would like to know:
(vi) when the policy was introduced
(vii) whether the BL applies a universal policy to all libraries or
whether Cambridge has unique conditions
(viii) whether the regulations and technology as presented to a
reader in Cambridge have been amended from those imposed by the BL
and if so (in detail) how.
(viii) whether the UL has raised the question of the BL’s DRM and
regulations with any governing or advisory body in the University
and if so whether the discussion is publicly minuted.

I appreciate that this is a substantive question and an unusual way
of raising it but there is increasing public concern about the BL’s
DRM and it is critical to have accurate information. Please note
that all answers are public and will be publicised.


This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to My motivation and FOI request to my University about the British Library’s DRM

  1. Pingback: Twitter Trackbacks for Unilever Centre for Molecular Informatics, Cambridge - My motivation and FOI request to my University about the British Library’s DRM « petermr’s blog [] on

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *