Unglue.it, an ebooks site that functions like a true participatory democracy

This week, we focus on Unglue.it, which also uses a collectivitst approach to DRM (Digital Rights Management), somewhat along the lines used by Knowledge Unlatched (the focus of Free Content Alert last week). Unglue.it was launched in 2012 and is based on the premise that small gifts by many users can free ebooks from the DRM fetters that bind them…in essence, ‘ungluing’ them in a virtual way.

The concept was to use ‘crowdsourcing’, as is done with sites such as Kickstarter and Gofundme. In contrast, Knowledge Unlatched uses membership fees paid by a consortium of academic libraries to purchase the necessary Creative Commons License (CCL)  giving access to verified members of those academic communities.  Unglue.it’s method at the outset was described by the Huffington Post here. As I understand it, authors who are independent (or otherwise hold the copyright to their work) set a fee for releasing their work as an ebook. If Unglue.it is interested in acquiring it for their collection, a fundraising campaign to reach that amount in a certain time frame is launched. Various incentives are offered for various levels of gifts, much like fundraising  for public radio and public television in the United States. Unglue.it gives details in its FAQ page.

As it relies on donors, the site cannot be anonymous; everyone who wishes to use the site must be an active participant. However, in return for this, users are members of a community which decides what titles it would like to add.

The most recent coverage given the site is from last year and is a summary of the service that appeared in the well-respected trade publication, Information Today. The author considered Unglue.it “one of the most innovative ebook sites.” With this I can agree–it can be considered a true participatory democracy in that each donor has an equal voice in the community. Sites that rely on consortia of large (usually academic) libraries for purchasing CCLs from a publisher obviously provide a beneficial service.  However, the grassroots approach I’ve described here is unique and raises the bar higher in many ways.

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