Library and Information Association of New Zealand Aotearoa
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Challenging DRM in pursuit of control...

If an e-book lending platform fails or the business that is providing that platform collapses, what happens to the e-books that your library has purchased?  Indeed, how many of us have even thought about the long-term preservation of the e-books we’ve been purchasing?  Granted, the bigger e-lending platforms are offering lease agreements and limited lending options, but have we librarians really thought through the full implications upon entering these contractual agreements?

A month ago I touched upon the possibility of libraries creating, running and maintaining their own lending platforms – one way of circumventing or mitigating the loss of control, and therefore the right to preserve, e-books.  Unfortunately, upon further exploration, the Ann Arbor Library lead, with its promise of creating its own e-lending platform was a red herring.  So instead, my curiosity has led me to another link in the chain: the Copyright and Technology Conference (CTC, 2010).

At this conference, the terms under which publisher’s license e-books for library lending were discussed and although DRM (Digital Rights Management) is alive and well, its days are quite possibly numbered with regard to e-books. 

I am beginning to understand that this idea of mine isn’t entirely impossible; however it’s not an easy one to see through to its fruition either.  Although DRM is somewhat unpopular amongst library users and librarians alike, it is not a law unto itself. As such, I would like to direct you to the following United States Code, which gives me a great deal of hope that one day, DRM will be challenged and that publishers’ more arcane reasoning behind their restrictions will be lifted:

What libraries can do when they buy an ebook

When a library buys (not licenses) a copy of an ebook, it is subject to the same copyright restrictions and allowances as when the library buys a hardback copy.  It has no more legal right to make 10 copies of Wikileaks and the Age of Transparency,to lend out to 10 patrons simultaneously, than if it had bought the hardback.

Copyright Restrictions
 The library may not make multiple copies to sell or lend. It may not make derivative works, such as translations or movies.  These are exclusive rights granted by law to the copyright owner.   17 U.S.C. Sect. 106

Allowances: The library may make copies for preservation, replacement, and to fulfill user requests, provided it abides by the conditions set forth specifically for libraries in 17 U.S.C. Sect. 108.Libraries may lend one copy of a purchased ebook to one user at a time, under Fair Use. (See “Lending library ebooks”).

Additionally, the library may make limited copies or distributions as permitted by copyright law under the limitations and exceptions set forth in 17 U.S.C. Sect. 107 – 122.

My hope lies in the fact that publisher’s DRM restrictions make it virtually impossible to meet the allowances stated above – a core role in our profession.  As I explore this idea further, my next point of interest will be to explore the New Zealand Copyright Act.


Feature article by Debbie Price-Ewen
Founder of NZeRT

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