DRM: Impediment to Progress or Defense of Rights?

DRM Panel

DRM Panel: (L-R) David Parker, Adam Chesler, Zak Rolnik, Jim Dooley

An overflow crowd heard this panel discuss Digital Rights Management (DRM) and whether it is useful or not. Jim Dooley, Head, Collection Services, University of California, Merced, began with a definition of DRM:  a set of access control technologies used to control the use of digital content after its sale.  He noted that “after the sale” is important; DRM sits with content forever and controls what the user can do with it.

Dooley noted that DRM makes problems for library users. For example, libraries have many resources, and they have several types of DRM, which is very confusing for the user who has to figure out what can be done with the content and why it is different from other content. This affects library services because Reference Librarians spend an inordinate amount of time explaining this to users, which is a waste of a lot of time.  DRM also prevents libraries from preserving content and legitimate uses under the Copyright Act. Publishers are using DRM as a marketing tactic by making content available on their site without DRM, but if it is available on another party’s site, it has DRM attached to it. So the presence or absence of DRM is another criteria for selection. Will libraries have to buy titles they don’t want so that their users can have others without DRM?  All of these problems mean that DRM has negative effects on scholarship and the ability of libraries to give service to their users.

Zac Rolnik, President and Publisher, Now Publishers, said that his company does not put DRM on its content, and he wondered if we need it.  Publishers want to maximize use of their content, but they also want to control access. DRM is more complicated than just controlling usernames and passwords. Publishers want users to have the most pleasant experience getting the content, but the benefits of it are not as great as the cost to implement and manage DRM.

Rolnik said that some seepage of the content is good and is almost impossible to prevent. Seepage gives exposure to the publisher and its books. Lots of e-books from big publishers have no DRM. DRM flies in the face of open access and makes it difficult to apply fair use guidelines.

So is DRM an issue? Rolnik does not see much value in it.

Adam Chesler, Director of Library Relations, Momentum Press, asked why a publisher might want DRM.  He said that it is useful for protection of assets and risk management, providing controlled maximization of content distribution while ensuring as much use as possible. If content is freely distributed, it is hard to track usage and use the data in sales efforts. DRM is part of many business models. Control over distribution provides strategic opportunities.

On the other hand, DRM has administrative ramifications. It takes staff to deal with it, which raises costs. It must be explained to every customer or user as part of the sales process, which is a time-consuming process and takes time away from selling. Publishers do not want to worry about who is using the content and how; they just want them to use it. Restricting access with technology slows down development. So Momentum Press does not use DRM.

David Parker, VP, Alexander Street Press, discussed the downsides of DRM for authors, especially as related to e-books.  An e-book reader platform restricts knowledge sharing, and DRM adds a layer of trapping of knowledge creation in the reader. Authors want to see conversations about their content. DRM pricing models are an extension of print models. DRM eliminates creativity in pricing.

Parker said that piracy is not pervasive. Fear and concern from the music industry have been overstated, which has scared authors. Authors really do not need to worry about this. Instances of piracy in scholarly content are good because they increase exposure of the content.  (These opinions generated some heated discussion by some members of the audience, as might be expected.)

Don HawkinsDon Hawkins
Charleston Conference Blogger and Against The Grain Columnist

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