Related link: http://www.ariadne.ac.uk/issue40/coyle/
Most of us remember the battle to let us
read Alice in Wonderland aloud.
That was just an entracte in Digital Rights Managements’ theater of
the absurd. A more consistent story line is the battle to preserve
libraries in the digital future. A key loss in that arena has been
reported by my colleague Karen Coyle, a librarian and long-time member
Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility.
The article referenced at the top of this blog summarizes the values
behind digital rights management and how libraries get left out.
Karen has been tracking standards in online media and digital rights
management for several years, and has protested with alarm as the
right to loan books slipped out of evolving standards.
The right to loan materials for a limited time had a history in
several online standards, including the eXtensible rights Markup
Language (XrML) controlled by a ContentGuard, a company owned by
Microsoft, Time/Warner, and Xerox. (So far as I can tell, W3C has no
hand in any of this, despite the appearance of the name XrML).
But then usage rights took an odd turn. First, usage rights were taken
out of the core XrML standard and reduced to an extension. Then the
Motion Picture Experts Group (MPEG) developed their own list of rights
and quietly removed the right to loan. The work of the MPEG committee
goes far beyond films because is is turning into a model for rights
throughout a wide range of media, notably the
Open eBook Forum.
It took some tedious reading of standards and a lot of back-and-forth
discussion with MPEG standards developers for Karen to confirm that
the MPEG rights expression language indeed did not include the right
to lend, which is part of the rights recognized by American law as
“rights of first sale.” The publishers and studios don’t seem
particularly proud to eject libraries from the digital future. But when
pushed to justify themselves, I could imagine them saying something
like, “You don’t need a library when you can download the content from
us. We’ll give you a good deal on a license for limited viewing.”
And I would expect just such an excuse from people trying to impose
their commercial view of culture on the rest of us. If you want to see
Spiderman II one evening, a license from the movie maker
could well replace a local library (which you indirectly pay for
through taxes). But try imposing that restriction on a inner-city
school student who finds she has to insert fifteen references in a
paper she’s writing in a single week. And how much does someone have
to pay when he’s used six hundred references in his thesis and then
has to review them all a year later before his thesis defense?
These same publishers and studios would probably be happy charging
everybody in a church, public board of directors, or study group to
view a bit of content that one person saw and thought was relevant to
a pressing issue they were all discussing.
For nitpicking details (which make interesting reading) on this topic,
MPEG’s attempt to wrench us away from open scholarship and public
discourse is not a pretty picture.
Should our rights be set by laws or by encrypted protocols?