The issue of Digital Rights Management (DRM) has been around for as long as ebooks have been around—and not only ebooks, but digital content in general, including online journals, movies, TV shows, games, and software. DRM is usually discussed in the context of copyright and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998, which makes circumvention of measures that control access to copyrighted works a civil offense (in some cases even a federal crime). But DRM isn’t copyright. It refers to actual technology—a code or a set of codes—applied to restrict the digital use of copyrighted materials. In the publishing world, it is a way of ‘protecting’ digital books against copyright infringement and piracy, which have been a major concern to publishers since the advent of the Internet. By using protection—usually via three DRM types, Amazon for Kindle, Apple’s FairPlay for iBookstore and Adobe’s Digital Editions Protection Technology—publishers (or copyright holders) are able to control what users can and cannot do with digital content.
This means that people buying ebooks, whether for personal or institutional use, are paying for usage, not possession (as has been the case for centuries with print books). When encrypted with DRM, ebooks cannot be easily (if at all) copied or printed, viewed on multiple devices, or moved from one device to another. Further, they can only be downloaded a certain number of times (even when legally bought online) and, if necessary, blocked in certain territories around the world (or made invisible to users in certain countries). Such restrictions have given publishers and authors some peace of mind over the past two decades, but they have resulted in many inconveniences for legitimate users, including lay readers who purchase digital content on sites like Amazon and researchers who access digital content through libraries. Continue reading The long and winding road to DRM-free ebooks in academic libraries