Digital Libraries & Ebook DRM

Controlling ebook distribution and lending periods.

How digital libraries differ from physical ones and how ebook DRM can be used to control distribution and enforce lending periods and copyright – controlled digital lending with copy, print and expiry controls.

There are some key points at which digital libraries are different from physical ones.  Shelf space is no longer a constraint, and searching the stack is a simple exercise.  Rare volumes can be made ‘available’ without risk – provided that you have adequate security over the digital copies and suitable licensing control(s).  Locklizard are well placed to provide distribution and lending controls, as well as being able to provide key reports for reporting to and negotiating with the Copyright Collecting Agencies.  Locklizard can also be integrated onto a Document Management or Library Management system (see also LMS security) to enforce the lending controls that are to be maintained.

An overview of library development

Libraries have evolved steadily since arguably starting out around 700 BC in Nineveh.  Back in the day (as some say) the practicalities of librarianship were having a good enough oven to cook the clay tablet, and solid shelving to take the weight.  Copying was difficult, as was lending.

Printing technology introduced new challenges because you could make more copies (see Gutenberg and Caxton and the Chinese) which meant you could have more books, but it wasn’t easy.  Transferring the skills of the scriptorium to the printing works took many years, and you could say it is still work in progress with new vibrant colours but still no rare metals such as gold and silver, or rococo to give depth.

But the great revolution that converted libraries from being solely for academic study was the introduction of the narrative story as exemplified by Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (1387), appealing to a general public (works of fiction were very popular), and giving birth to the idea of Copyright and making a profit.

The concept of the lending library dates from around 1580 in England.  The Statute of Anne (introducing Copyright to the UK) dates from 1710.  See also IPR protection & copyright.

And this all created the need for administrative solutions.  Books had to be catalogued, borrowers had to pay subscriptions and were limited to the number of books that could be borrowed at any one time or for a period of time, to even out demand.  Authors had to be paid.  And all without computers!

Controlled digital lending and today’s challenges

Controlling copying of electronic books

Libraries worked by keeping control of a scarce and expensive resource – books.  Copying them was originally difficult and expensive and slow.  Today making copies has been trivialized.  High speed photocopiers and scanners are available and inexpensive.  Libraries and authors face a serious problem – how to stay in business.  Copyright was invented partly to reward authors for ‘the sweat of the brow’ or the creative process.  But if they only sold or lent one copy and the Internet immediately made infinite copies, every bit as good as the original, for nothing, then what is the motivation to create new works that are not purely or substantially advertorial?

So, from the library point of view, entering the digital document era the resource is infinite and the amount of space required for storage marginal.  Libraries must consider other aspects of their work when looking to the future.

Information search – how to locate information using available tools is changing from how to use a physical library to how to use search engines (and what to believe of the results in either case).  Scholarly materials (books, journals and newspapers) usually have to be paid for, and Internet searches can lead to paid for articles or subscriptions. They are often still in physical form.  Tennessee State University suggest that only 8% of printed journals and even fewer scholarly books are available on the Internet.

Much of library lending needs to be connected to a Library Management System where ‘lending’ must be managed.  This is important because Copyright payments are made by public lending libraries for lending Copyright works based upon various measures including general popularity of a work, the number of copies of works being lent, and so on.  So having a secure document management system ensuring that borrowing figures are accurate is very important.  Locklizard is able to ensure that borrowing is not exceeded and the records can be relied on.

Prevent printing of ebooks

Real books can be copied and distributed.  In the physical world you stop allowing sensitive books out of the library, or you choose a lending period that balances how long it make take to read/study and how long to copy.  Typically a week, but it could be three.  And in the digital world since it takes no time to send a document to the printer it has to be prevented.

Copyright law in some jurisdictions may allow the making of a single copy for personal study reasons.  In some jurisdictions it is the equivalent of a chapter, or 10% of the book.  However, that has to be balanced against the practicality that if anyone can make a copy for their personal use then there is nothing to stop them giving/lending that copy to anyone without charge.  So preventing printing, or making it unattractive to the copier – watermarking prints so the source is exposed if they make copies is an essential control even if it sounds like ‘shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted.’  Locklizard has a range of granular watermarking controls which can dynamically display user information in order to discourage users from taking photocopies.

Controlling period of lending & ebook expiry

Because in the digital world libraries are distributing digital documents, unless they take care to protect them from being copied and re-distributed they could have problems with licensing.  So that means taking active steps to make sure that users (borrowers) are not able easily make copies and cannot just pass them on to others.

It also implies that users (borrowers) can only have the use of one or more books for a limited period of time.  This is reproducing a physical control introduced to even out lending and ensure a ‘fair share’ of access to books.  When you have digital books the quantity available could be considered to be without limit.

A lending period can be from a matter of hours (for rare books that probably don’t leave the library building) to two or three weeks where they can be taken away for study use.  With digital books there is nothing ‘rare’ about the digital edition unless it is decided to limit access to the documents.  More practical is the demonstration of licensing control by being able to stop access after a reasonable time for study without giving away ownership (see PDF expiry controls).  For the more legalistically inclined, there is the question of ‘exhaustion of rights’ and do rights transfer with the downloading of the book to the user (borrower?  Allowing a download of a copyright work may transfer ownership rights unless it is clear that borrowing was a limited license to use and not a sale.  Locklizard secure PDF document controls can help establish there was no possibility of considering a transfer of ownership.

Administration, location locking & licensing control

It must be possible in any system to account for the borrowing and return of books, even if they never leave the building – something that can be reproduced by limiting access to the library computer network and closing the building to stop access.  Many academic libraries do not allow anything to be taken off the premises and may lend books to each other to satisfy requests from their users (borrowers).  These need to be administered and controlled.

A licensing system would allow digital books to be licensed to other libraries for use on their internal network but not for further use.  This may be needed to fulfil agreements with the original document owners that respect original copyright or ownership.  Locklizard enables libraries to enforce this with IP locking controls.

The fact that a book may be out of copyright may not be the end of the story.  Copyright is the right of the author to be rewarded for their efforts.  But when there is only one copy of a book and that is owned by someone there is no law to say they must make it publicly available for free copying.  The exhausted rights can still allow a licensing regime that prevents the right to further distribution/copying exerted by the document owner.  In the digital document world unless steps are taken by document owners to protect their licensing rights they can rapidly lose control of any rights they may have had and that may not be desirable for patrons or libraries.  Locklizard uses access control and printing control methods to help secure the rights of document owners to prevent unauthorized use.  We enable libraries to provide controlled digital lending using ebook DRM to distribute library books securely.