Librarians against DRM

From Defective by Design:

In 2008, the DRM Elimination Crew stood on the steps of the Boston Public Library (BPL) and demanded that they Kick DRM Out (1, 2). The DRM technology got into the BPL through a contract with the company OverDrive, who uses DRM (on most titles) to control how and when people can read ebooks. This setup essentially moves control of the library’s digital collection into the hands of the publishers and intermediary companies like OverDrive that do the dirty work of implementing DRM.

Back then we found that librarians were somewhat disgruntled with this setup, but, unfortunately, few librarians were willing to take action to get DRM out of their libraries. However, a recent move by the publisher HarperCollins may have just pushed many such librarians over the edge by demanding a 26-checkout limit on many of their titles (i.e., a title can only be checked out 26 times to patrons before it is removed from the library’s digital collection and it needs to be re-purchased).

One reaction to this demand of HarperCollins is a call for a Readers’ Bill of Rights, and the creation of powerful graphics and logos that create solidarity for Librarians Against DRM. The Readers Bill of Rights currently makes the following demands for readers:

  • Ability to retain, archive and transfer purchased materials
  • Ability to create a paper copy of the item in its entirety
  • Digital Books should be in an open format (i.e. you could read on a computer, not just a book reader device)
  • Choice of hardware to access books (i.e. in 3 years when your device has broken, you can still read your book on other hardware)
  • Reader information will remain private (what, when and how we read will not be stored, sold or marketed)

If a publisher wants to meet these minimum requirements, they will have to get rid of DRM.

Readers, librarians, and authors need to make their voices heard. DRM leaves readers and librarians helpless and divided. If we do not ban DRM from our libraries and our lives then we can and should expect publishers such as HarperCollins to strangle libraries so as to gain as much of a profit as possible.

We need to watch out for each other and make sure that people are not getting suckered into notions of “fair” DRM. For example, Amazon offered an ebook “lending” service, and treated it as though it were some novel invention — see our article ”Lending: A solved problem” — but what is more, as soon as individuals began collaborating to make wide use of this paltry concession, Amazon shut them down.

With the Day Against DRM just around the corner, we are encouraging people to come up with actions that can be done locally. If your local library uses DRM, that would be a great place to start.

If you are interested in participating in the 2011 Day Against DRM, here are two simple steps you can take to get involved:

Copyright © 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 Free Software Foundation, Inc.
Verbatim copying and distribution of site content permitted worldwide, without royalty, in
any medium, provided this notice, and the copyright notice, are preserved.


  1. Librarians against DRM,

    Please provide a business model for a publisher to make back even the production costs from selling a single copy of a book to a library that can then lend that book out unlimited times to unlimited people anywhere in the world.

    Thank you,
    Rational World

    P.S. Yes, while libraries don’t exist to support publishers, publishers don’t exist to support you either! Vote with your wallets, not by supporting silly and unreasonable positions such at this one. There’s a middle ground that most reasonable publishers and librarians will find, and yes, DRM is a necessary component of that.

  2. If copyright becomes worthless, libraries will be victims just as much as authors and publishers.

    If you can get a copy of any book for free on the web, why would you bother with the library?

    If almost no one uses the library, why would taxpayers support keeping libraries and librarians on their doles?

    Librarians really need to think about cost versus value and exactly whose side they are on.

  3. No one likes DRM, I don’t like it either, but how else can the common ground between publishers and libraries can be found? How exactly a library without DRM would look like? Just unlimited free book distribution for all patrons? There are some DRM skeptics among publishers – but I wonder if even those would license their books in such a way.

    The other thing is I do not see anything in the list of demands which is incompatible with DRM (at least Adobe DRM) in the context of libraries. I think whoever wrote this list does not really have experience working with DRM. I can see a plenty of problems with DRM, e.g. incompatibility with free software, but just not those on the list.

  4. I don’t like DRM either, but even though I think publishers should eliminate it for books they sell, I don’t see any problem with libraries continuing to use it. You may not “own” a DRM’d book, but guess what? You’re not supposed to “own” a library book. They’re supposed to come with restrictions, and restrictions that I would find lame on a purchased book I don’t find objectionable for a library book at all.

    If you want to “own” the damned book, and be able to do anything you want with it without DRM, then pay the damned publisher. Then you’ll at least have a leg to stand on for wanting to kick DRM off of it.

  5. There seems to be an assumption among some here that the Librarians involved are campaigning for DRM to be removed for Library eBooks specifically, and on grounds of matters specific to libraries.

    It is clear to me from reading the references, that this is simply not the case. Both campaign against DRM are against ALL DRM in eBooks ! They makes no special claims in respect of Library books being different, and all of the usual DRM arguments are at the heart of the campaign.

    My comment above still stands, I believe “DRM is the dumbest thing adopted by any Publisher. It achieves nothing but negativity.”

  6. Chris Meadows says:
    April 4, 2011 at 3:08 am

    You mean like this one?

    The fact that that was published here on March 23rd by the same author just makes it worse that he says in this April 1 article, “as soon as individuals began collaborating to make wide use of this paltry [borrowing] concession, Amazon shut them down.”

    Ignoring the fact that it had nothing to do with Amazon’s being against borrowing, the site was back up within a day, and the fact that it was only one of many sites)

    I agree with the stance against DRM and for readers’ rights. It does not help our position to have people on our side poisoning our well with such blatantly dishonest arguments. Credibility is key.

The TeleRead community values your civil and thoughtful comments. We use a cache, so expect a delay. Problems? E-mail