Practical problems for libraries distributing ebooks & secure electronic delivery
Although not many people are aware of it, libraries do not get the books they lend ‘for free’ but pay agreed copyright fees to make modern print books available on the basis of the likely number of users a year.
In addition, libraries such as the British Library have rare and precious works that have significant value, usually because of age and scarcity, that they would wish to make available digitally, whilst recovering their costs as conservators of rare and valuable works and preventing others from passing on documents for free. Also, there is a very real risk of increased wear and tear or even damage when handling things that are very sensitive and delicate (there is enough acid in human sweat to damage old paper).
There are many arguments over the rights of access to ‘publicly held’ collections. Some works may carry restrictions applied by the donors of items to the library (to make them freely available or to restrict access to scholarly study only). Such limitations may also have political sources or reflect the views at a point in time.
So libraries are expected to act as repositories of a nation’s heritage and to provide and administer large collections including easily damaged works that cannot be replaced. It does not seem unreasonable to allow a library to recover the costs of conservation from the users of the documents as well as from the nation state. Historically it has been considered reasonable for authors to recover income from lending, although now that electronic document copying is trivial the nature, function and role of lending libraries seem increasingly under question by some.
Libraries have controlled the distribution of documents by not allowing them to leave their premises, but that creates serious limitations on facilitating academic study. This poses the question of how, in the digital age, books and documents can be distributed without harming the economic mechanisms needed to pay for their support infrastructure.
And that is why libraries, such as the British Library, need to use Digital Rights Management (DRM) in order to help support the massive costs of being a repository of published works as well as a lending institution.
But implementing DRM over large collections is a challenge. A designer has many different technical and administrative problems to address, including:
- What features are essential to meet the requirements of the Copyright Collecting Societies?
The Copyright Collecting Societies (Wikipedia gives a good indication of just how many there are) exist to collect royalties for the use of copyright works. They want to know how many times a year individual books are lent, and they want some confidence that nobody is giving away works where royalties ought to be paid (in other words they can’t be readily copied or re-distributed). A DRM system prevents document copying and use of the print screen key, and resists screen grabbing methods.
- Is it possible to capture the number of users per document per year for reporting purposes?
DRM technologies must include the ability to capture each time a document is opened and each time it is printed. The Collecting Societies are not going to be happy about allowing printing, but it may be allowable where works are no longer in copyright (anywhere from 50 to 100 years after the death of the last creator).
- What features are needed to facilitate the study of documents, whether they are ancient or modern?
This is achieved by preventing printing and adding a watermark to viewed content to make it difficult to screen grab. The watermark is not there to identify the user where the document is made available for reviewing but to identify that it is a review copy.
- Can you limit use just to devices inside one or more libraries and not outside?
Generally libraries have been doing this for some time by limiting access to a specific IP range being that of the library. Applications should include use limitation by individual IP or by IP range, and this may address the use of BYOD devices that would have to use the library hot spot, and thus be limited by the range of the WiFi transmitters.
- Without independent study and review modern books content will go unquestioned rather than being subjected to peer review and active criticism, but can redistribution be prevented?
There is a conflict of interest between peer review and redistribution. You can try to argue that anyone should be able to give a copy of anything to anybody for peer review. And the logic of Socrates would argue that if this is true therefore everyone must have access to everything so Copyright is a nonsense. But libraries are a part of Copyright, so they need to enforce it as part of their own cost controls. Using DRM controls allows libraries to control ‘free’ distribution by not granting recipients the right to further distribute so those who wish to claim copies for the purpose of review may not make copies themselves, nor can they ‘give away’ copies to other people. This introduces a test by requiring users to ‘sign up’ to being members of the library borrowers, and agree to terms and conditions (just like they always did) rather than allowing a ‘free for all’ where anyone can redistribute anything.
- Can overarching controls persist whilst allowing users portability and offline use?
It is possible to create controls that persist even if documents can be used offline if the documents are encrypted so that they cannot be processed by ‘normal’ tools or utilities. The problem to be solved is that once tools that have not been designed and developed to enforce controls rigorously are given access to an uncontrolled document then they can be used to re-publish and distribute them. This leads to the requirement for proprietary Viewer technologies (whether stand-alone applications or browser plug-ins) in order to exert controls that are absent from the products normally handling the file types concerned.
- Can you convert from a lending arrangement to selling one?
This is a version of ‘try before you buy’ where you borrow a book, and then decide you want to keep it (purchase). A DRM control system must have the flexibility to provide for a ‘lending period’ that allows the rights to change if the document is purchased. This would be an interesting variation for the Copyright Collecting Societies because their current models do not cater for a library selling books (or pictures or music). This may also create a different balance between libraries and traditional booksellers as well as allowing libraries to sell digital copies of their private collections, when it is not possible to sell the originals.
- Can you make available whole collections as well as individual works?
It is possible to store vast amounts of information reliably on very small devices such as USB sticks or their equivalents. Libraries are now able to store huge numbers of documents on these devices. This makes it possible to create collections or sub-collections, and to prevent unlicensed distribution of collections without licensing conditions. The advantage for a library is that they can maximize the value of rare collections by controlling the access to their resources instead of giving them away. And this may be achieved whilst still making the collections available for public access.
The Internet is an interesting and new example of a self-publishing library. The greater part of content creators (authors, painters, photographers and so on) pay to have work published (web site and ISP hosting charges, broadband fees, receiving advertising etc) even if they are not consciously aware of the commercial model they are following. There may be some concerns over the motivation of self-publishers. Libraries with a physical presence still have larger collections of published work that could be available if the economic case can be made. Libraries using DRM technologies to administer their rights may be able to increase their readership and their income as well as recovering necessary costs for storage and conservation.