07 December 2012

If You Can’t Open It, You Don’t Own It -- E-book Licensing Restrictions

Image Source: http://previewnetworks.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/digital-assets.jpg

A post by this title was published on The Signal: Digital Preservation blog of the Library of Congress.  It is a very important topic for genealogists.  As more and more resource material gets published in e-format, what are the limitations on sharing, bequeathing, etc this wonderful library we may have accumulated?  I remember when music first became digital, I let my husband deal with all the issues of Digital Rights Management (DRM) stuff as it just gave me one big headache!  

I love that when I have a book or a CD or a DVD, I can share it with my family or loan it out to friends.  I have quickly learned that this is frequently NOT true with digital items (e.g. book, music, movies, etc).  If we try to share out “digital” collections – it might be considered illegal!  Ack, I don’t want to do anything illegal and yet if I’ve “paid” for something, I want to ultimately be able to pass it along to someone else to enjoy!

And, as more and more of our personal “stuff” becomes digitized, we are also digitizing or accessing digitized documents, books, lectures, videos, etc that are part of our “library,” though in digital format.  What happens to those when we die or want to “share” them with our family?!?!?!

Leslie Johnston reflects on a talk given where these topics were recently addressed ...

On October 17, I had the extreme pleasure of hearing Cory Doctorow at the Library for talk entitled “A Digital Shift: Libraries, Ebooks and Beyond.”  Not surprisingly, the room was packed with attentive listeners.

The talk covered a wide range of topics–his love of books as physical objects and his background working in libraries and as a bookseller; his opinion on Fair Use under U.S. Copyright law; and his oft-discussed release of his own works as free ebooks under a Creative Common license in conjunction with their physical publication.

But the focus of his passion was the prevalent publishing and ownership model for ebooks.

When you buy a physical book, said Doctorow, you own that book.  You can lend it to friends, give it away, or even sell it.  But when you buy an ebook, you license it.  Depending upon the source you purchased an ebook from, you may only have the right/ability to read it on a single device or type of device.  It often comes with Digital Rights Management attached, he noted, so you cannot make any changes that will allow you to read your ebook on other devices or loan it or transfer it to someone else. You can’t even save it and open it independently of its original intended environment.

“If you can’t open it, you don’t own it,” he declared.

A related opinion piece by Gary Richmond “Die Hard--But Make Sure You Can Bequeath Your Digital Assets” also explores these topics.

Have you purchased a print book instead of an e-book just because of issues like these?  Or what about a CD vs some mp3s or a DVD versus a purchase via Amazon Prime?  Are there times where you consciously made a genealogy-related purchase decision to ensure that you could bequeath or share “it?”  If so, please let us know

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  1. I frequently buy a new book that is issued in hard cover for my Kindle, because it is cheaper than the hard cover copy. However, if I like the book, I buy the paperback version when it comes out, precisely so that I have a copy I can lend or leave to someone else.

  2. There are multiple reasons I don't buy electronic publications, and this is one of them (I don't download music, either, for the same reason). Once I pay someone for something, with some exceptions it should be entirely my decision how I use it.

    That said, I do understand the issues with people distributing multiple copies. Too many users don't understand the difference between lending and copying (if I lend you a book, it's not available to me at the same time; if I copy a file, we can both use it and then the publisher truly is being hurt). I hope that someone in a position to do so will work on finding a good compromise.