March 7, 2011
Some Thoughts on eBook Licensing Terms for Libraries
The news feeds picked up the move by HarperCollins to restrict library loans of ebooks to just 26. After that, a library will have to buy an additional license for another 26 loans. Rinse and repeat. The magic number of 26 was derived by assuming a print copy of a book will survive that many loans before a library would have to replace it. I think librarians everywhere would think that a book manufactured with basic quality would survive more than 26 check-outs. But that's quibbling about the number and not the reason why the limitation on the license exists at all. HarperCollins believes that ebooks, without the same overhead associated with print, without deterioration due to wear and tear, should be treated as an analog. The company should not be deprived of that replacement revenue simply because it creates a product that remains pristine in its use.
Never mind that e-text can't be copied or pasted (legally). Never mind that digital rights management enforces other restrictions on the text that do not exist in the analog world. What's important is monetizing ebooks further by placing artificial restrictions borrowed from the old way of doing things. How odd, to create value from a construct rather than finding ways to adapt to new forms and new market strategies. There was a time when I characterized the music industry as one who hated its customers by assuming that every person out there was a pirate. I think the publishing industry is moving into that same mind-set by punishing public libraries if it adopts these new licensing terms wholesale.
Consider that ebook vendors purport to sell texts for their proprietary devices "in perpetuity." If this starts with public libraries, could not outright individual purchases turn into pay for view? Why should the buying public pay only once in a system where the reader is replaced rather than the text. Publishers may consider this imbalance as they as think of ways to recoup value from their product. Portable electronic devices are created as consumption machines partially because of practical design considerations and, I think, partially to enforce a consumption mentality, one that is susceptible to constant tolls for access. Charlie Brooker, noted Mac-hater, wrote recently that he has adopted the platform, but points out how lacking it can be when he wants to do something he can't by deliberate design of Apple. Everything must go through iTunes, for example, even when it need not. This is the evolving digital world, and not only from Apple. It's called "control." The revolution may not be televised, but it will be licensed.
I read an article once, I don't remember where, otherwise I would link to it, that suggested that piracy actually promotes preservation by allowing archiving where a rights holder deliberately prevents it. Books can be scanned and DRM can be stripped from files. It's a pity that the people who are trained to manage digital information collections (librarians) are the ones with the least legal right to apply that training. In one hundred years, sadly, the richest archives of digital information will not be coming from libraries. No wonder the publishing industry hates Google. [MG]
One inherent limitation on ebooks as archival records, especially over the long term, lies in the digital coding of the text itself. In, say, twenty years, the executable code used in e-readers will differ greatly from whatever exists today. That is the nature of the computing industry.
I do not know how e-books are coded, but assuming publishers eschew ASCII for some other coding in their e-books, the versions sold today will not reasonably be useable by 2031, at least not without paying an additional fee to someone to make them readable. I assume that today's licenses prohibit the user from reading the books on other than approved platforms (readers).
Even if publishers currently use ACSII for the text itself, obsolete formatting and security code will eventually impair its readability. Anyone who wrote something in MS Word in 1991 and then tried to open the file in 2011 knows how difficult it is to extract the original text, much less the formatting, and MS Word poses that problem with no inherent limit on the user's rights to the text.
Printed text is not so ephemeral. So, whatever excuse publishers and Amazon give for charging after a certain number of uses, the real reason has to be a desire to extract fees from clients and nothing more.
Posted by: Dan S | Dec 17, 2011 1:21:42 PM
There is no fundamental reason that ebooks must be licensed instead of sold, except publisher fiat requires it. To give consumers a choice in the matter, Congress could extend the first sale doctrine to cover licenses, or provide that licensed books are equivalent to purchased books. The EFF or a trade group could create a digital rights management standard to avoid the numerous problems associated with proprietary digital rights management schemes. An enterprising publisher could market itself as bypassing proprietary copy protection schemes entirely.
Posted by: ereadornoteread | Jun 17, 2011 2:41:54 AM
I don't understand why libraries cannot subscribe to an organization that subscribes ebooks, negotiate and pay a flat fee, as they do with the databases such as Galileo, JSTOR, etc.; and have access to whatever ebooks the organization produces as long as the contract allows. Many people have not yet purchased an ereader or ebooks, and if these problems keep arising it may take longer for ebooks to reach its peak. This issue does block the belief of intellectual freedom. I understand that everyone wants to maximize their profits; however it seems that it will be at the expense of the PEOPLE, and at not cost to the corporations!
Posted by: Dindi R. | Mar 10, 2011 8:52:09 AM
Regarding Pay Per View books - not there yet, but there are pay per view articles out there in scholarship land. These are situations where a journal has published an article online and it usually has not yet shipped out the print counterpart. If you subscribe to the print version of the journal, you can buy the article online for a ridiculous fee. If you DO NOT subcribe to the print version of the journal, you can still buy the article for a ridiculous fee, but after a certain time - like 3 days - access will be turned off. It would be one thing if you paid a lower price for limited access, but you actually pay more
Posted by: Vicki | Mar 7, 2011 2:04:39 PM