DRM: Publishers don’t want it. So why?

Scraped and typed into Arcturus

I have had thoughtful contributions from an academic and a publisher on my exploration of DRM. See http://wwmm.ch.cam.ac.uk/blogs/murrayrust/?p=2434&cpage=1#comment-454356 for comments by Henry Rzepa, and in particular his concern about publishers’ roles, to which Ricahrd Kidd from the Royal Society of Chemistry has replied.

Richard has been an active collaborator with our group for over 5 years and has supported several summer students. Note also that the RSC has a responsible attitude as a closed-access publisher. They make closed material available (but not Open) after a time-lapse period and they do not force authors to hand over copyright on data, so we have extracted semantic information from their supplemental information.

I should make it clear that although I campaign gently for Open Access publishing (as opposed to frenetically for Open Data) I accept that there are closed-access publishers. My concern there is that they make it clear what they are providing, what rights they have extracted from the author, what restrictions they have placed on the reader (sorry, enduser-customer) and whether they provide reasonable value for money. For example, a closed-access publisher usually has an Open Access option where authors can pay – in some cases this is very good value (e.g. Acta Crystallographica) and in others (ACS) it’s very poor (the freely visible material is not open and festooned with restrictions).

So you should read Richard as somewhere in the mainstream of responsible closed-access publishing:

Henry Rzepa says:

May 25, 2010 at 8:53 am  (Edit)

Yet another question, which perhaps the BL or a librarian might enlighten me on. Currently, our library spends a lot of money (£millions per year) on journal subscriptions. But interesting, a few quite new journals are not covered, and many journals have quite limited backnumbers. If I acquire e.g. a PDF article under this subscription, it (at least for now!) comes with no DRM. The article can be re-used in many ways. For example, it can be dropped into Mendeley, a software system that strives to add value to the document by extracting meta-data, indexing it, and much more. With some PDF documents, interactive 3D objects are included that can be manipulated.

Get the same document from the DL and it seems it comes with DRM that effectively limits it to a single print within 14 days. I doubt that the publishers are different, it is simply a different intermediary that is providing the document.

Since the above makes no sense, it would be tempting to conclude that in fact the BL is ahead on this, and that the DRM system will be eventually introduced to all academic library subscriptions as well. Please please can someone reassure me that it is not the plan?

Richard says:

May 25, 2010 at 5:05 pm  (Edit)

I strongly doubt that’s the case Henry – my impression is that the DRM is just there for the historic/copyright/whatever issues around ILL. Publishers have no interest – as far as I’ve seen – in putting this stuff on published PDFs or asking subscribing libraries to do so.

There can be unintended consequences of good intentions though – a few years ago we were persuaded to lock our published PDFs (while still allowing printing, copy & paste), that it was something a reputable publisher should do to preserve the original published version. When we did it this actually caused much more difficulty to everyone – other online customers, students who needed to put the PDFs into their thesis, ourselves – so we quietly dropped it.

It’s clear that there is not only an ethical, but also utilitarian argument. If you mangle your product with DRM people either won’t use it, or hate you, or abuse it. If Richard is typical of most responsible closed-access publishers then DRM is NOT NECESSARY.

So why did the BL adopt it? I have the following hypotheses – not exclusive:

  • A few publishers demanded it and the BL is too afraid to negotiate with them. So the BL applied DRM.
  • It is more cost-effective to apply DRM to everything rather than try to work out what should be covered and what should not be DRM’ed,
  • Librarians worship copyright and the BL has got an opportunity to show how smart and responsible it is by DRM’ing stuff.
  • The marketing department of the BL is behavinf like marketers rather than scholars. They have invented a need and convinced themselves that adding DRM improves the product. They’ve said so.
  • Non-academic content suppliers such as D*sn*y and its M*ck*y M**s* (I am too scared to actually type the full words as this is undoubtedly illegal and actionable somewhere) have terrified the BL. I am sure this is part of the case.
  • It’s actually great fun to play with new toys. And librarians love worshipping copyright by fixing notices to photocopies. This is a new ritual in the cult of copyright.

But we’ll see from their FOI response.

BTW I am visiting the BL next month as a member of UKPMC advisory.

When I have got my FOI request off to the Russell group universities then I shall start slowing down until the responses come in.

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3 Responses to DRM: Publishers don’t want it. So why?

  1. Ed Chamberlain says:

    From a single Librarian’s point of view, having worked on a large-scale digitisation program, copyright is anything but ‘worshipped’. It often seen as a major pain in the neck to doing exciting things with new toys.
    We fix notices to copiers because we are legally entitled to as part of the copyright license agreement to which we sign up. Other than these notices, I’ve personally never observed or taken part in any agressive enforcement of copyright by a Librarian.
    Librarianship is primarily a service based profession. Whilst the current value of our service is being well debated here and elsewhere, If we were not informing users of the legal restrictions around photocopying, then we would be failing.

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  3. Henry Rzepa says:

    Andy Appleyard at the British library has just sent me this link, and to quote from it: “The British Library is concerned that the shift from print to digital publishing is undermining the traditional balance at the heart of copyright and could make it harder for researchers to access and use information, and undermine innovation, research and heritage in the UK“.
    There is a lot of material at the link above which needs digestion, but it does sound promising!

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