The Access-Ownership Line

“Where is the line drawn between information content that libraries want to own versus content that libraries are willing to just lease or license?”

That is a question that came to me late last night as I struggled with another blog post that has been frustrating me for over a week. As I closed down the laptop and crawled into bed, it was a question that stayed with me. Why do we demand to own certain materials and are satisfied to merely license or lease others?

In pursuing ownership of some materials, it makes sense in regard to the first sale doctrine. Libraries want to be able to take the steps necessary to facilitate the borrowing of materials. In retaining ownership rights, it allows the institution to be able to demand the return of items as well as sell or discard them at a later date. It’s certainly been true for every physical item that has crossed through our doorway.

As to leased content, the benefits of database access for our patron communities outweigh the needs of ownership. Given the demands on maintenance and management of such systems, it is far easier to purchase a license for access. All libraries have to do is facilitate access to patrons through the web portal. Book leasing works well for short term lending of popular titles that one doesn’t want to own fifty copies of later when the demand drops off completely. It’s perhaps the only time the library fudges the ownership desire in light of a economic advantage.

While those represent traditional lines of ownership and leasing, I’m wondering if they still make sense as the library moves forward. Why not look towards more leasing models for print materials? Can libraries look to assert ownership rights when it comes to databases? (Specifically, why not become shareholders of database content?) I will confess that some of these questions are just me wondering aloud; I really don’t have good answers for them. But as people’s interface with information content continues to evolve, I think they are good questions to examine for the future.

Two tangent thoughts that relate to the questions posed:

(1) The big ownership/lease item that gets the attention of libraryland are ebooks. As for ebooks, I can see two different kinds of models that would work well, both of which originate from the music industry. One would be like iTunes where the user purchases books through an interface with the capability of moving it from device to device. It’s an ownership based system in which the user would be granted rights over the material. The other would be more like Rhapsody in which the user pays a subscription for access to hundreds of thousands of titles that they can download at their choosing. A person can download as many titles as they wish so long as they are a subscriber to the service. If information access is our goal, how big an issue is ownership in the long run?

(2) I think libraries have their own paradox when it comes to access. We’ll proclaim that we are in favor of unfettered information access yet specifically prohibit people on the basis of the accumulation of late fees. Not lost materials, not wanton acts of disregard for public safety, but because they have returned materials late. For a dollar amount equivalent to a Starbucks coffee or an average movie ticket, we will restrict someone’s information access without much thought. While some may argue that it is a necessary component to ensure the timely return of materials, I find it remarkably draconian in light of our information access principles. I think it cheapens the institution to put such a low price and condition on borrowing rights; it would be akin to telling someone they couldn’t drive till they paid off their $25 parking ticket. To me, it’s an enormous injustice.

Where do you think the ownership/access line exists in libraryland?

Doctorow & The Future of Copyright

From the Guardian UK:

If copyright is to have winners and losers, then let’s start talking about who we want to see winning, and what victory should be.

In my world, copyright’s purpose is to encourage the widest participation in culture that we can manage – that is, it should be a system that encourages the most diverse set of creators, creating the most diverse set of works, to reach the most diverse audiences as is practical.

That is, I don’t want a copyright system that precludes making money on art, since there are some people who make good art who, credibly, would make less of it if there wasn’t any money to be had. But at the same time, I don’t think that you can judge a copyright system by how much money it delivers to creators[.]

This is just one of the better quotes from the latest Cory Doctorow column at the Guardian. I’d say that you should stop reading my entry right now and go read the column in its entirety while you have the spare time. For me, it gave me a perspective on an issue that I had been wrestling with in my mind for a long time. I was stuck in an infinite loop of the creator versus the common good, a revolving fight to allow content makers to control while still allowing people to build, use, or improve upon their creations. (This is what I get for being fair to a fault.) Here, in plain English (the Queen’s, not the colonists, for that matter), Mr. Doctorow lays a great foundation for determining how to approach copyright and the public interest that employs common sense criteria.

While Mr. Doctorow uses the music, movie, fashion, and architecture industries as examples of different cases of logical copyright assertion and consistent public interest doctrine, the industry I was looking for (and found missing) was authors in regards to ebooks. Given his history for giving away his own ebooks and getting companies to drop DRM on his books, I do have an understanding of his ideals for the market. And as much as I admire them, I understand that other authors and publishers may beg to differ. What I am wondering is if there is a balance that can be created so as to allow authors like Mr. Doctorow to drop certain copyright controls while allowing others to keep ebooks under their scrutiny (be it DRM or something else).

Obviously, it would be a system that allows for an opt out. That handles Mr. Doctorow’s end of that equation. But what would be the rights for those who opt in that make the most amount of sense for the author as well as the general public? A model based on print books is not going to work since the ebook resembles a music file more than its paper brethren. So maybe it’s time to dream up something new.

I have an idea, but it’s just that: an idea. So bear with me.

Why not create a pricing scale that reflect the balance of control between the author or publisher and the end user? To give an example to illustrate what I mean, let’s say you are shopping for an ebook by a popular author. A DRM, no transfer licensed ebook would cost $5; a DRM transfer limited ebook would cost $7.50; and a DRM free do-what-you-want-with-it no licensed ebook would cost $10. In other words, the cheaper prices reflect the assertion of author/publisher control of the material and the more expensive prices grant greater control or ownership. It’s a sliding scale in which the price determines the rights granted to the ebook.

Basically, you buy your way to the freedom you want for the material. Buy the cheaper DRM book and want the DRM free version? Pay the difference. Could people opt out of the scale and name one level of control and one price (even free)? Certainly. Under a scaling system like this, it doesn’t deny people who simply want to read without a concern towards readership. I believe that people will pay a premium for ownership, so why not utilize it as a revenue stream for the publisher or author? Yes, there are still concerns about piracy and authors that will only sell under one set of conditions. As this is an idea, I don’t have a firm grasp how to respond to those potential pitfalls. Hopefully, someone else reading this might have a solution. However, I think this is a step in the right direction for further development.

(As an aside, consider the fact that iTunes offered DRM free tracks at a premium before dropping down their price to compete with Amazon.)

Thoughts? Can something like this work?

Fear and Licensing in Las Library

In reading about the Netflix/library hubbub[1],  the issue in my mind is not how Netflix was used. I believe that the actions of these libraries and librarians are a symptom of a larger issue for the profession: the coping (or non-coping) with the expansion of licensed content as part of the collection.

This run-in with Netflix is just the tip of the iceberg that is slowly bearing down on the libraryland ship. We are moving from a collection model where we would purchase and lend materials to where we act as an access point for leased or licensed content. The relatively safe model protected under the first sale doctrine is being eroded and replaced with agreements where ownership rights stay with with the provider. In forgoing ownership, libraries must abide by a series of contractual rules and terms that have been created by an outside entity. As the number of vendors offering these kinds of business increases, librarians are obliged to enforce a variety of contractual clauses, terms, and conditions.

Libraries are surrendering content ownership at an alarming rate in exchange for convenience. In doing so, the library moves toward a future where the collection is no longer owned and maintained but leased and licensed by entities that operate in the best interest of their shareholders, not the patron community. It’s a future in which final determination of access is taken out of the hands of librarians and placed into that of outside third parties.

If this doesn’t bother you, it should.  

So what can be done? Just as business models regarding digital content are being shaped in the marketplace right now, the library has a role in what that model will look like. Libraries are no longer act as a receptacle at the end of the information production line; they are now active and involved in content creation. In addition, we retain a very important business model chip: money. As it becomes a rarer commodity due to budget cuts, it becomes a more valuable one in terms of buying power. 

So, this begs the question: why aren’t companies like Netflix, Amazon, Apple, or Sony working with libraries? (Redbox does; Starbucks does; I am eager to find other examples but I wanted to post this sooner.) I have a couple of answers in mind, but the one that strike me as being the best is this: companies don’t want to give up any level of control of their content. In creating terms for libraries to use their content, they would have to cede some level of control to us in order to make their product available to our patrons. With the current bevy of EULAs, TOSs, and other agreements that allow them to retain absolute ownership, there is no reason to make a any sort of accomodation or deal with libraries.

(Still not convinced? Check out the quote in the ReadWriteWeb article from Steve Swasey, Netflix’ vice president of corporate communications:

Netflix "frowns upon" this type of use, said Steve Swasey, Netflix’ vice president of corporate communications, but indicated no plans to enforce the rules. "We just don’t want to be pursuing libraries," he said. "We appreciate libraries and we value them, but we expect that they follow the terms of agreement."

“Appreciate” and “value” sound like the words used before that boy or girl you have a crush on in high school tells you that they just want to be friends. They won’t sue libraries for misusing their service, but they sure aren’t lining up to come up with something that is a better deal for both parties[2]. And that’s a problem that libraries need to address and quickly. Libraries risk losing out on the next generation of content management and the ability to write their own destinies when it comes to collection development. We need to renew our efforts to take control of our content as well as to work with businesses in creating new opportunities and ventures.

The clock is ticking.

 

[1] In roughly this order: Tame the Web, Chronicle of Higher Education, Information Wants to Be Free, Read Write Web, Fast Company, LibraryLaw Blog, with a good overview from Librarian.net.

[2] Here’s an idea off the top of my head: Netflix creates a site license for libraries, up the number of DVDs that can be borrowed from Netflix by a library, and give Netflix a share of overdue fines collected from their DVDs. Libraries move less well known movies off of the shelves of Netflix, Netflix gets nearly free advertising as a service within libraries (“we don’t have it, but we’ll Netflix your request”), patrons get movies, libraries share overdue fees with Netflix, everyone wins. (Yes, I know I just railed against licensing and not owning content, but since Netflix is in the business of lending and not retailing, I think this better fits their current business model.)

The AP is Mad as Hell and It’s Not Going To Take It Anymore

The Associated Press, a widely recognized prize winning news organization, has decided that it is not going to take it anymore. They are looking to control their content by adding a “digital wrapper” to stories so as to ensure that they are being read through licensed sources. This is intended to thwart unauthorized search engines and aggregators who derive profit through ads placed next to links to AP stories. Also, it will allow them to determine what is being read on individual computers and what sites people are gaining access to them. Furthermore, they want news sites that use their content to run the same software as part of a “digital permissions framework” that would inform the publisher of their permission obligations with individual stories.

I can’t even begin to describe all of the major problems and issues of this move (announced earlier this year but beginning to be implemented now). I think the right metaphor sounds something like this: after they realizing they had closed the barn door sans horses, the AP is going to where the horses are and attempting to build a new barn around their current position. Their next announcement has to be the invention of time travel which will allow them to go back to the point in time where internet practices and customs were being formed, insert their business model, and destroy this future free internet content timeline.

All kidding aside, there are some immediate concerns. First, while they have given assurances that no private information will be gathered, how can this be guaranteed? There is no denying the fact that a little piece of digital code is reporting information about a reader back to a centralized information center. (I’m sure that privacy advocates will have a field day with that one.) Second, what amount of web traffic constitutes the need for a site to obtain a license? While they have indicated that they are not interested in going after bloggers, their actions in the past have indicated otherwise. (And their announcement that even “minimal use” would require a license is not very convincing.) Third, what about web tagging sites like Delicious and Diigo? Does the sharing of links through these third party sites constitutes a need for licensing (for me or for the site)? Could aggregations of AP stories through these sites be considered a trigger condition for licensing? Fourth, what exactly does this mean for search engines? While the major players in the search engine field have licenses with the AP, how will their content control affect the results of a search? (On a related note, if I was an AP shareholder, I would be asking how this would not drive news content consumers to use other wire services such as the CNN, the BBC, and Reuters?)

The big looming issue here is that of copyright and fair use. As a librarian, I really can’t see how the AP is going to do an end run around fair use. Titles are not copyright protected and the use of a fraction of the total words of an article does not create a copyright breach. While I can appreciate and understand their desire to protect what they have created, it is not the way to do it in this business and computer culture environment. (I couldn’t even find one article that applauded this move for this post.)

We live in a connection culture where information and ideas are passed from person to person through links. And the more links you have to something, the more likely it is to be seen by others. Taking away those links is lowering the chances of your content being seen and passed to others. When companies are making billions of dollars through linking, why would you restrict or confiscate the very things that drive traffic and revenue? It makes no sense in light of other free content examples. (e.g. New York Times.) It’ll be interesting to see how it does play out, but I have a feeling I know how this one ends.

This is not the last call for the end of free content on the Internet. But it should be the last call for companies to stop trying to apply 20th century solutions to 21st century issues.

If Links Are Outlawed, Only Outlaws Will Have Links

The Associated Press is mad as hell and they aren’t taking it anymore.

While whom they remain angry at is somewhat nebulous, the venerable pillar of news reporting is looking to get a piece of the new media revenue pie by asserting greater control over their content. The current status quo is one where various types of web entities (such as Google, Yahoo!, and The Huffington Post) arrange licensing agreements in which they pay for the right to link to AP stories, audio, and videos. It is from here that the gray areas of the web emerge as sites, bloggers, and other aggregators link to the content that is generated through these AP licensees. On these tertiary sites, people can generate revenue from either ads or services that they provide while linking to AP product.

While stealing content is pretty straightforward, the trouble begins with linking of photographs, stories, summaries, and other copyrighted content. Such sites look to invoke the “fair use” for their use of the copyrighted materials since their argument is that they do not take substantial portions of the original works. While copyright law defines a “fair use” exemption, the criteria for determining such a case is less than crystal clear. By their own admission, there are no set parameters and it would require a case by case analysis of the works to determine whether “fair use” applies or not.

So, here lies the current dilemma: how does a link fit into the equation? The controlling document here is the Digital Rights Millennium Act, an act that was written and amended (and re-amended) before the current wave of web technology of the last two years. While current court cases provide a limited fair use protection to certain forms of linking (such as thumbnails and  inlining (linking photographs from other servers)), there is a still a universe of circumstances under which links exist. There is no way that the current version of the DRMA addresses these new circumstances to any degree of satisfaction; in fact, I would agree with the Electronic Frontier Foundation that the inadequacies of this act create a internet ripple effect which do not reflect the current web reality. While I as a content creator am completely sympathetic to people who wish to control the fruits of their labors, the current laws and regulations apply obsolete or ill-fitting rules on those who wish to share content with the new tools and technology in use today.

There are those who say (and I am one of them) that the news print media has had over a decade to adapt to the new web environment. The signs that the current business model would not hold have been there with the reduction of readership and shrinking subscription base. It is only now that a new revenue stream has become apparent that the AP has determined itself to exercise control over the content. But this genie is out of the bottle, and the technological and social norms of the internet have done nothing but to make the sharing of information easier and more accessible. Once again, it is an industry that should be pushing innovation in technology by developing new methods of information delivery that will generate revenue and provide news while still embracing fair use as a means to increase site traffic and readership. For the AP to try to put the breaks on the link economy (which does exist) would be akin to trying keep a litter of puppies from escaping from a box; the constant effort to retain everything will prove to be exhausting and ultimately fatal to an flawed business model. There is nothing to fear in linking; if anything, it is a medium that should be embraced by the AP.

(Posted at LISNews)

a kindle that yields no fire

Within library circles, there has been a continued conversation as to the Kindle. Unlike previous eReaders, this one has taken off like gangbusters. The Oprah show in which the Kindle was in the spotlight has put this $360+ gadget as the must-have gadget for all the literate geeks of the world. And while the library does eventually adopt popular information technology into the collections (CDs, DVDs, video games, and the like), the Kindle has left us scratching our heads.

On the one hand, it has everything a reading consumer could ever want. Relatively easy interface, excellent reading screen, built-in options, and access to a vast array of books, magazines, and other resources. It’s small, it’s energy efficient, and it puts the desired text at the tips of the reader’s hands within a minute. It could quite easily revolutionize the world of literature. Truly, it is the flying car of books.

But, for all of its positives, this flying car runs on the fuel equivalent of soylent green. In exchange for ease of convenience, a user gives away ownership. Emily Walshe reports that, in exchange for their money, a Kindle user is simply purchasing right of access to the content. And as a lease owner, you cannot trade these rights to others (e.g. you cannot ‘loan’ a book or even the Kindle to another person) nor is the Kindle open to other ebooks. The end user is a captive audience, subject to the whims and declarations of Amazon. There is no competitive pricing, competing devices, or alternative venue. When you commit to the Kindle, you are saying the technological equivalent of “I do”.

I will concede that this is not necessarily a bad thing. Amazon is moving the ebook market forward and setting higher and higher standards for the devices. But libraries will leave this technology aside due to the restrictive nature of the terms of service. The most obvious reason is that, as a lending institution, we still cannot technically lend out Kindles without wiping the content each time. (There is a library in NJ that lends out Kindles; the flying monkeys of corporate lawyers have never darkened their doorstep, but it is a real possibility.) This defeats our main mission and purpose. In addition, the DRM is such a quagmire that only an update to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act could create the right conditions for this technological wonder to join our collection.

My personal opinion is that ebook readers are still a couple of years or technology generations from being completely viable. Aside from their staggering cost (especially in this economy), these devices will only truly be a revolution for ebooks once the emphasis changes to the device itself and take off the proprietary controls off of the digital content. The devices at present can only go so far before people will demand access to other publishers. We are a “all in one” sort of society, a people who want to make only one stop on the way home from work, and that’s something that will need to be reckoned with in the future.

The first company to make a device that reads all content will win this race. I just hope I can buy stock in it before it shoots through the roof.

(Sources: LISNews, Wikipedia)