Thursday, February 24, 2011

New OverDrive DRM terms: "This message will self-destruct"

In a 4-page "Library Partner Update" PDF from OverDrive's Steve Potash, he reveals an imminent change in their eBook DRM terms:
To provide you with the best options, we have been required to accept and accommodate new terms for eBook lending as established by certain publishers. Next week, OverDrive will communicate a licensing change from a publisher that, while still operating under the one-copy/one-user model, will include a checkout limit for each eBook licensed. Under this publisher’s requirement, for every new eBook licensed, the library (and the OverDrive platform) will make the eBook available to one customer at a time until the total number of permitted checkouts is reached. This eBook lending condition will be required of all eBook vendors or distributors offering this publisher’s titles for library lending (not just OverDrive).
The previous model already forced libraries to pretend a digital "copy" was a single physical thing. Only one library's user can have it "checked out" at a time. And only on one device. The clearly misapplied language around this tells you what a terrible idea it is. To be clear, this model eliminates almost all the major advantages of the item's being digital, without restoring the permanence, durability, vendor-independence, technology-neutrality, portability, transferability, and ownership associated with the physical version.

This goes a step worse so that each digital "copy" effectively self-destructs after a set number of reads in your system or consortium. That is to say, if you wanted to help blunt the crushing demand for a popular title, this would only help you slightly, if at all. And only one user at a time. And only if your users are faster than the rest of the consortium. After that you (and the rest of your consortium) are straight out of luck. Guess you should have bought more print copies?

15 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  2. This is insane. Who puts a shelf life on bits?

    This is the latest in a series of changes from Overdrive that should make libraries stay away. This from a person in a state with a statewide Overdrive program, no less.

    (preview fail, I had a nasty typo in there)

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  3. It seems to me that the roadblock here is the publishers. Maybe we need a new model for the publishing business. Like digital publishers who negotiate their own contracts with the writers. Don't stop the presses...Bypass the presses!

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  4. This is flatly insane. I wonder which publishers are behind it? Clearly not the few that have learned that ebooks, and even some degree of piracy, actually boosts sales.

    With these terms, libraries won't be able to fit popular books into the ebook budget. It'll be too expensive.

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  5. Bobbi Newman (Librarian by Day) has written a follow-up post to Joe's post. It IS the mainly the publishers...

    Publishing Industry Forces OverDrive and Other Library eBook Vendors to Take a Giant Step Back

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  6. Why is anyone surprised? Moore's Law for licensing says that any contract will get worse for the customer by half, every 18 months... or something like that... Librarians chose this path 20 years ago and we are stuck with it. We took what we could get, and then bent over with a smile on our librarian faces. And then asked for more. Unless we can all decide to pool our money and buy under our own terms, we will get screwed on every deal. Under "digital" we own nothing. So expect that any product you paid for in January will change by July. What happens is what always happens: publishers get greedy. I can bet that a conversation similar to this has happened at every publisher since libraries began offering ebooks: "Oh, look, our books are circulating very well at the library. Too well. How much did we charge them for [Stieg Larsson's] books? Oh, we could have charged them so much more." The only thing that's going to fix this is a national buying program; and you know that ain't gonna happen. Get 20 librarians in a room to decide anything and you'll get 50 choices.

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  7. To effing, I couldn't agree more about the 20=50 rule or Moore's licensing law. But the complaints must be voiced, no?
    The thing that burns me up is that publishers write these onerous, restrictive and frankly illegal licensing terms and librarians think the terms are the law! DRM aside, copyright is not a cut and dried law. Fair use is decided on a case by case basis. If the publisher is writing licenses that inhibit or restrict your (insert, "the library's) rights, you don't have a legal obligation to abide by it.

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  8. Not only that, but Overdrive markets the books we buy as us OWNING them. And...the publishers don't seem to get that people being introduced to authors and new titles via libraries actually increase sales. For some reason they have the mistaken notion that if you borrow books from a library you never buy them...That is simply not true.

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  9. Let's take a deep breath and realise that the publisher is doing what any corporation will do - in fact is legally obligated to do - and that's maximising its profit. Like it or not, that's the reality so let's stop getting upset when companies act entirely in character and focus the energy on getting our state/provincial/national representatives to come up with a coherent voice to promote our goals of helping our communities.

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  10. @the.effing.librarian - Finally, someone who gets it. I think one of libraries biggest problems is that they don't understand the business world outside their doors. They've been leaving decisions up to other people and depending on vendors for so long most of the time they're either afraid or don't know how to do it themselves. The only way to get good deals in business is to personally fight for them, or be in control of something the other person wants.

    There are people out there begging for another middleman! http://wizzyrea.wordpress.com/2011/02/25/content-middlemen-we-need-your-help/
    And people who think its the best idea so far!
    http://www.heatherbraum.info/libraries/what-ebook-reaction-best-serves-our-patrons/

    Libraries got themselves into this mess by not being involved in the actual process and paying someone else (a business that reports to investors and a board of directors no less) to handle it all for them. Libraries are going to have to get themselves out (if they aren't already too far in) and build their own model that they own and control.

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  11. Peter: I understand the pressure on companies to produce profits, though there are certainly many kinds of corporations, including reasonable commercial actors, Not For Profit corporations (even big ones like OCLC), and various mission-focused organizations.

    Overdrive is not a publicly held company. Harper Collins is also not public, but is owned by News Corp., which is (NASDAQ: NWS). I think if it were pitched to librarians that "Rupert Murdoch has a new eBook deal for your library", we would see a lot more skepticism.

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  12. We need data that shows that free content increases the sales of paid content. Unfortunately right now that's a bit of a mixed bag; yes for film, yes for some artists but no for music overall.

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  13. Atz: I think it's pointless to debate various corporate structures and goals; the actions of HC are what we have to deal with. It doesn't do us any good to be morally right or even technically right. If there's a positive correlation between libraries and profit the relationship will change to our benefit. If that correlation is not in direct sales then boycotts - by the public, not libraries; from their perspective that would be a positive as people will only be able to buy books - and public opinion will do. If we can't make that happen we'll need to find another approach.

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  14. You can read the data in this link two ways. 1) Publishers are moving to squeeze more revenue out of the faster-growing ebooks channel 2) The growth of ebooks hasn't affected total sales. Now if only we had someone, i.e. state/provincial/national associations to have that discussion with publishers for us. http://www.publishers.org/main/PressCenter/Archicves/2011_Feb/DecemberStatsPressRelease.htm

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