Draft FOI request to the British Library (BL) on Digital Rights Management (DRM)

Dictated because of a slightly dodgy keyboard into Arcturus

I shall be composing my freedom of information letter to the British Library today. A week ago I asked informally on the blogosphere and twittersphere for feedback from academic librarians on the implementation, use, and impact of digital rights management (DRM) systems on the supply of academic material from the British Library (inter-library loans, ILL). This post represents what I shall write to the BL under FOI unless I get more feedback today. (I am stunned by the passive acceptance of the UK academic library system to the BL’s DRM (and presumably DRM in general), but will retain that phrase unless they can show that they have taken action to challenge the system, even if unsuccessful. It also appears that they have no public views challenging any sort of DRM and they accept what is given them).

Over the last week I have discovered that:

  • The DRM systems (Adobe Digital Editions, FileOpen) had an extremely detrimental effect on the material and service received by the reader. This has been confirmed by the ex director of the Digital Curation Centre, Chris Rusbridge and the ex director of Adobe Digital Editions, Bill McCoy. The system implemented by the BL has been beset by technical difficulties which mean that many readers cannot access documents on a current setup.
  • There is a markedly reduced accessibility as admitted by bill McCoy. I shall be asking the British library whether the accessibility levels are compatible with legal requirements.
  • The UK academic library system apparently does not care. It has accepted the DRM system without question and without any apparent consultation either within their institutions or more widely. I have been unable to get a single comment from within the system and I have found no evidence on the Internet for any concern about the use of DRM. I therefore write this letter with imperfect knowledge of the UK academic library system, and I shall be getting further information through freedom of information requests to the individual institutions.


In writing to the British library I shall provide the following background and clarifications. My query:

  • only relates to journal articles (“serials”) and not to books (“monographs”).
  • only relates to material provided by the BL to members of academic institutions operated by their local library.
  • only relates to the use of DRM and not to the change from paper to electronic form. I wish the comparison to be between electronic delivery (ED) and electronic delivery plus DRM (ED+DRM).
  • relates to “born-digital” material (e.g. as supplied by a current scientific scholarly publisher) and material copied from paper by the BL.
  • relates both to material in copyright and also presumed to be out of copyright . I shall query the basis of how the BL decides which is which.

When the BL replied to my last FOI request there was an indication that where copyright or other issues were unclear the BL imposed charges as that had the effect of maximising revenue and cost recovery.

I shall also ask about the consultation process. When the BL started to provide ED, did it:

  • consider the adverse effects (technical, accessibility and public opinion) in introducing DRM
  • take legal advice as to how the 1989 copyright/library act affected ED.
  • consult its advisory boards and committees
  • consult among UK academic libraries or receive representation from these libraries
  • consult among the wider public (such as academics and other readers)
  • take legal advice as to whether the DRM systems were legal (primarily accessibility).

And I shall ask for any material produced by this consultation.

I shall also ask whether suppliers of material (“publishers”) have required the BL to impose DRM delivery or whether they have set contractual conditions which can only be met by adding DRM.

I shall explain that my motivation in this FOI is:

  • to redress the unacceptable situation on the ground.
  • To try to redress the impaired public perception of the BL
  • To lobby my new MP (who is a research scientist) and the new government to change legislation and statutory instruments to remove DRM.
  • To get information on which UK academic libraries, if any, challenged the introduction of DRM and to prepare FOI requests to UK academic libraries asking for their consultation processes on DRM.
  • To have clear and accurate information in my dealings with the BL in my formal and informal positions.


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One Response to Draft FOI request to the British Library (BL) on Digital Rights Management (DRM)

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