Does Secure Electronic Delivery **REQUIRE** DRM?

Comment scraped into Arcturus

Does Electronic Delivery (even Secure Electronic Delivery) REQUIRE DRM?

This is at the heart of my argument. Owen Stephens has given a careful and useful reply and since he is the only Librarian in the UK taking this up with me I’ll take time to reply. I’ll comment in detail (with a few snips) and then continue my case.

  1. May 10, 2010 at 3:55 pm  (Edit)

    I should be clear up front that I’m not defending the use of DRM for this purpose […] When I talk about ‘advantages’ – the two key advantages that I see to the BL SED system are:

    Speed – items can be delivered more quickly
    Cost – it is cheaper to process electronic copies, especially when they are delivered directly to the requesting reader (adopting your preferred terminology!) – which is an option the BL have always offered

    I think these both offer advantages to the reader – speed I think is direct advantage, whereas reducing cost clearly offers overall opportunities to the community of users if not to users directly on an individual basis (although I concede that cost savings are sometimes just cost savings, and don’t confer any particular benefit)

    PMR: I am complete agreement so far. I haven’t seen “DRM” in the above paragraphs. Maybe I’m technologically ignorant. But I get e-publications from commercial publishers which don’t appear to have any DRM – and certainly not anything that stops cut and pasting, self-destructs, etc. The publishers have a very clear stranglehold over the University – if they think that I am breaching the rules they switch off the supply of articles and this is frequent.

    Whether you think these advantages outweigh the disadvantages (I would argue) is a different matter. Clearly you don’t – and I can absolutely see your argument.

    PMR I don’t see yours at all, so far. I’m clearly missing something.

    I would absolutely agree that the DRM completely hobbles the use of these electronic copies, and I agree completely with the point about trust. I also completely agree that delivering articles without the DRM would be much much better for the reader. What I think you miss is that it would also be a big benefit for the library and institution – DRM costs time and money to implement (e.g. see discussions about rolling out the ‘FileOpen’ software to all computers in a University on the LIS-ILL discussion list), and problems caused by DRM (e.g. inability to open a file) take time for library staff to resolve.

    PMR: I absolutely fail to see the benefit (unless FileOpen or ADE is much cheaper than ordinary PDF readers. (I am not even in this reply railing against PDF – I can manage a hamburger, but this is simply burnt to charcoal).

    I think one challenge for libraries is that for some readers the utility of getting an item delivered quickly, by email is high enough to outweigh the costs – and for others not. Librarian’s have a choice as to whether they provide the service, or hold out for a better deal. I would draw a parallel between this and discussions about the BBC and DRM on iPlayer streams – many people think it is wrong for the BBC to apply DRM to their online offering. The BBC (and others) argue that without this they would not be able to provide the content online at all.

    [discussion on “user” snipped.]

    PMR: So I am mystified. The rest of the suppliers of academic e-material (Elsevier, ACS, Nature, etc.) send normal unmutilated PDFs. There is no special software. We could, if we wished, send copies to the whole world. But if we break the rules and they find out we get cut off. Why can’t the BL do the same? They know who it’s going to. I have filled out a form in blood and sent it by carrier pigeon so speed is irrelevant. If I foul up I burn in hell.

    So what’s so special about the BL? It can tell the users that they must obey the 1989 Copyright regulations and if they don’t they go to the Tower of London. Are they EXPLICITLY required by law to impose DRM? If so, I’ll shut up. If not, they can behave in a reasonable way like a reasonable person ( ). When they sent out photocopies they didn’t use vanishing ink – they told people the law said they could only make one copy. Why not the same here?

    What am I missing?

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3 Responses to Does Secure Electronic Delivery **REQUIRE** DRM?

  1. Apologies – I’ve not expressed myself clearly and missed a key point.
    You are absolutely correct, I’m not saying DRM has any advantages for the reader (or indeed the library) and I make no argument that it does.
    The issue is that the BL has only offered electronic delivery with DRM – so the decision for university libraries was whether to offer their readers with electronic delivery hobbled by DRM or to not offer electronic delivery at all.
    So the advantages conferred by electronic delivery are *currently* only available to libraries and readers willing to accept DRM.
    It is a good question why the BL has implemented DRM on its Secure Electronic delivery. Anything I say here would be speculation as I have no special insider information on this – but my very strong guess would be that publishers insisted on it as a pre-requisite to allowing the BL to supply copies of their texts electronically.

  2. Stephanie Taylor says:

    I’m based in the UK and have an inter-library loans background in academic libraries. I’m currently working with UKOLN at the University of Bath as researcher and am also a consultant in various aspects of digital library services.
    The main difference between BL services and publisher services is that BL do not own the copyright of the the majority of the material they supply via SED. Certainly in UK academic libraries, requests for articles etc. from academic researchers are made to their home library. The library then requests a copy of the article (or other material) from BL on behalf of the original requester. To comply with copyright law, the original requester (in this case the academic researcher) has to sign a request form, including a copyright declaration, at some part during the interlending process. This is a legal requirement for obtaining non-returnable copies. In UK law, the signature has to be obtained as a written signature, i.e. pen on paper.
    The supplier (BL, then the home library) have to be able to show a clear audit trail, including the original signature. Also, the supplier is required to demonstrate that the original requester (the academic researcher, here), has only received one copy of the requested article and that no permanent copy of the original article exists once it has been delivered to the original requester.
    This archaic (in my opinion) law has held back the free flow of information from libraries to their patrons since the early days of e-publishing and digitisation. BL, along with many other libraries offering to share material via interlending, have implemented many systems that I would consider restrictive in order to be seen to comply with this legislation. Academic publishers in particular seem to be very loath to make any concessions in this area – in fact, it seems to me that many copyright owners have used the more traceable elements of a digital transaction to tighten up how their material is used and shared among library patrons.
    In my opinion (and it is very much my personal professional opinion, and doesn’t represent the views of any of my employers) librarians could best serve their patrons by challenging this legislation. But it would need to be a concerted effort, with support from higher levels and done as a large group. If a library, even BL, acted alone, then they could (and in my personal experience would) be prosecuted.
    I’d really, really LOVE to get academic researchers, BL staff and other interested librarians together to sort out an effective plan of action to take this on. It has always seemed mad to me that it is possible to move around vast sums of money, buy a house and manage shares online, yet a signature written on paper is required to request a copy of an article from an obscure academic journal. Equally, I see the point has already been made that once an individual has a copy of any material, they could make further copies (illegally) and distribute them – this was as true when people used photocopiers and faxes as it is today where email attachments can be forwarded.
    The big problem is who is held responsible – and as long as responsibility can be laid at the door of an individual library, librarians are wary of challenging this law individually via direct action. Ultimately, it could be the job/career of an individual librarian on the line here. If we could act as a group, mass disobedience backed up by a reasonable strategy for lobbying for change, it would be for the benefit of everyone in the UK, in my opinion.

  3. Phil Lord says:

    I think that the solution here is not to challenge the legislation but to challenge the existing publication process. There is, as far as I can tell, simply no reason to give copyright to the academic publishers. We should stop doing that and just publish electronically in the first place.
    Of course, this also cuts out the roles of librarians and BL also, in terms of lending. But that is also an archaic. It should only be important for historical documents.

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