Open letter to libraries: boycott DRM!

Joshua sez, " has published an open letter urging libraries to embargo the use of DRM immediately, as well as a template for citizens to personalize letters to their local libraries urging them to stop using DRM technologies."
Libraries that use DRM are submitting patrons to the onerous and unethical legal terms involved with purchasing, installing, and using software such as Microsoft Windows and the Windows Media Player. In the case of Microsoft Windows, this entails agreeing to terms that allow Microsoft to delete software and data that the user legally owns and has created or installed on their own machines. For a library to require their patrons to agree to such End User License Agreements as a prerequisite for gaining access to its collection is an injustice.

These software requirements drive the sales of DRM technology vendors, such as Microsoft and OverDrive, providing an incentive for patrons to discontinue using software and materials that do not impose DRM. The common argument that DRM and proprietary software are necessary because publishers require them becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, because the library is using its own market power to encourage their use, hurting the emergence of competing alternatives in the process.

Link (Thanks, Joshua!)


  1. I am a librarian in the UK, and i am having this exact discussion with our managers

    However most libraries in the United Kingdom are run by the local government and sadly this means we have the fun of entire legal and IT departments pressurising us to follow certain methods and sadly DRM is one of them

    In its defence a library is a analogue rights management system, you take a maximum number of items for a set length of time therefore DRM is similar to the existing model we use

    I still hate it though

  2. My local library uses Overdrive.

    Its a terrible pain to have to listen to an audio book in ten days, especially a long one. If you don’t finish, you have to check out the book again, which might mean a long time on the waiting list.

    Better yet, they just started a video service, also using the Microsoft DRM. ‘Certified for Windows Vista’ and ‘Plays For Sure’ do not indicate that your media player will work. And, firmware upgrades may change whether your media player works or not.


    Better yet, the Microsoft ZUNE is not on the list of supported devices.

  3. It seems to me for this to happen there’d have to be a mass “upgrade” to the understanding of technology the mass population has. People are so baffled about what’s legal, piracy, and what is just crooked corporate behavior. As #1, points out the battle would be convincing people in charge of the cash box that this is a good practice.

  4. The problem is that the libraries are stuck in the middle. The service providers only offer DRM products. Sure you can get free stuff from, but that isn’t what the patrons are asking for. The patrons want current music, videos and audio books.

    The libraries also have to agree to lengthy contracts in order to provide a large selection to its patrons, so even if someone comes up with a DRM free system, they are stuck in a contract.

    I am in government IT and have been looking for the answer to this for the last year so if anyone has a better idea, I am all ears.

  5. I was under the impression that (in the US, obviously) libraries were permitted under the DMCA to circumvent DRM. Is this not the case?

  6. Instead of trying to change the Libraries, why not try to change the publishing industry? Insist that digital books be distributed without DMR. Isn’t Microsoft simply supporting the interests of the publishers? I’m sure BoingBoing could put up a contact list of publishers and their emails. Tell them you won’t buy one more paper book if they continue to support DMR. And then contact every writer you love via their website and tell them you will not buy their next book (even though you love them), until they do like Cory Doctorow does when he makes his books available without DMR. I’m not saying Free, just no DMR. Then we’ll see if the publishers cave. How is Tor dealing with this issue? I mean, the whole DMR-less distribution?

  7. I have to agree with Dave #4. Unless you are a really big library or part of a large consortium with negotiating power, you are over a barrel and often take what you can get. Contracts trump copyright law, unfortunately. (Sirspocksalot #5, there are some VERY limited ways in which libraries are permitted to circumvent DRM, but only for evaluating products for purchase [Section 1201(d)].) As Jeff #6 points out, it’s the publishers/vendors you need to go after, not the libraries.

    There’s also usually a gag clause in contracts that prevents one library from discussing the deal it negotiates with another library — so we aren’t supposed to compare notes. However, we do what we can to refine our negotiating skills and learn what to watch out for. I don’t know much about the DRM issue, but in my particular area, interlibrary loan, I know what we look for in contracts and how we try to negotiate and rewrite clauses. Sometimes we just back away from a source, even if our patrons want it, simply because they won’t bend on the issue. But you don’t always have that luxury.

  8. I’m a librarian and I know how bad this is firsthand. Librarians are always on the front end of fighting against anything that limits freedom of speech and access to information. We often hear from people trying to limit access or ban books that they had no idea how militant librarians can be about fighting against this.

    But, oftentimes, libraries are held under the crappy bureaucracy the local, state and federal government that they are stuck with not having a choice to limit access. Either they limit access or all their funding is gone, and that’s what we hear all the time. We actually want more of the public to get upset and fight against this, but fight with us and not against us. We are not installing these things because we want to, we are just backed into a corner and have no choice.

    So join us in helping with the fight, but you’ll get nowhere yelling at us about it. Yell with us at the government and then we’ll see what we can do.

  9. Like I said, I suspect the real culprits are the publishers. Cory knows that, but I’m assuming he is not in a position to be too vocal on the subject. I think the Moderator’s husband is a Tor editor. Cory should ask for a guest point of few from a real insider on the publishing industry’s stance on DMR. I’m currently undergoing paradigm shifts and trying to predict the future of electronic books. I currently do not see how we will be able to not use DMR. Because if it’s an ebook or an audio book, the producer and artist would like it if you didn’t make it available for free on the net. Because the next big shift with our “I want to be GREEN” cool culture is less paper, more gizmos. Making paper is toxic to the environment. Everyone knows it, but no one wants to say so. Paper books are going to all but go away in the very near future. Only specialty POD editions will be available for fetishists.

  10. Overdrive recently announced that they’ll begin offering DRM-less MP3s.

    I’m not completely opposed to DRM in principle, but in practice it’s not even ready for beta. Every time I switch between streaming movies from Netflix and downloading audio books from Overdrive, I have to go in and trash DRM files on my system. It took quite an effort to get Overdrive books to play on my Palm Centro. (And of course they won’t play at all on any of our iPods.)

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