How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love DRM

Comment scraped into Arcturus

Owen Stephens says:

May 10, 2010 at 9:34 am 

I’m not sure if you are still looking for answers on this, and if so what answers you are looking for?

A brief summary of my knowledge, although I suspect you’ve gathered all this by now:

The BL has never (afaik) offered electronic delivery of documents without DRM. This service has always been called ‘SED’ (Secure Electronic Delivery). It was originally implemented using Adobe DRM (eventually Digital Editions, something else earlier I think), and this year has been moving/moved to using a new system called FileOpen.

My experience was that librarians did raise many of the concerns that you raise here when SED was first introduced (in 2005), and many libraries did not implement to start with because of DRM issues (sometimes principle, more often practical in my experience)

However, in the end I think the advantages of offering SED to users overcame any initial reservations about it.

In terms of getting more information on this I’d recommend asking questions on the JISCMail LIS-ILL list – I think this is where you’d get more detailed and expert answers –

Owen is in the Library Information Science area, and this is very useful, thanks.

I am interested to know that there were concerns. I wonder how many libraries raised this with their institution as a matter of academic freedom.

You say “I think the advantages of offering SED to users overcame any initial reservations about it.” I and Henry see no advantages. We see a pile of disadvantages. The BL is offering this to named academics who can presumably be trusted. If they can’t they can be brought to book, one by one. There is absolutely no advantage to the reader.

Note that Owen uses the current term “user” (sometimes “enduser”). This is not the “reader” who is a forgotten species; it is normally the librarian or purchasing officer. The conflation of user with reader is a serious issue.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love DRM

  1. I should be clear up front that I’m not defending the use of DRM for this purpose – I generally agree with you and very much like the fact you’ve brought Ranganathan into it – very apposite.
    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)
    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. 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.
    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.
    A quick digression on terminology. I use the term ‘user’ slightly reluctantly, but I have to admit to preferring it to ‘reader’ which feels outdated – as you point out in your previous post, it isn’t just about books any more – and this means that the ‘reader’ maybe the ‘listener’ or the ‘viewer’ or simply the inquisitive as well. I do also use ‘enduser’ although I try to restrict this to situations where I’m making a specific distinction between (for example) a librarian as a ‘user’ and a ‘reader’ as an ‘enduser’. Have you already posted your objections to ‘user’ somewhere? How do you feel about ‘patron’ (more commonly used in the US)?

  2. For once I seem to know something which the estimable Mr. Philips has missed – the BL does offer DRM-free PDFs.
    They are the ones it provides through HESS, and we use them for our Digital Course Packs here at KCL.
    At the BL higher education forum this year Barry Smith described DRM-free PDFs as his “Mecca”.

Leave a Reply

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