Librarians seek to provide equal access to all users regardless of the format in which the information is contained.
All information resources that are provided directly or indirectly by the library, regardless of technology, format, or methods of delivery, should be readily, equally, and equitably accessible to all library users.
DRM technology can restrict what users can access, how many users can access it, and how the information can be used. At the extreme, it can completely prevent access; at its best, it makes accessing information difficult and costly. Libraries act as middlemen between vendors, who have every reason to want to place restrictions on their information in order to prevent infringement, and users, who want freely-available information that can be used in any format and on any device.
Librarians have multiple concerns over DRM technologies:
Elimination of the First-Sale Doctrine
The first-sale doctrine is the idea that once the copyright owner sells a particular copy, the buyer is allowed to resell or loan that copy without authorization from the copyright owner. This is what allows libraries to loan books to the public and through interlibrary loan.
Enforcement of Numerous Restrictions
Most digital content is provided on a “pay-per-view” basis. This increases the digital divide because only resource-wealthy libraries are able to negotiate broader access. Further, the library might be forced into purchasing only certain devices, which in turn locks them into continuing to purchase from the same vendors because it all has to be compatible. The library is then dependent on those vendors for their continuing access to the content. The vendor has the power at any time to block content or take it away without notice. Amazon was sued after it remotely removed 1984 from users’ Kindles.
Elimination of Fair Use
There is an inherent tension between DRM and fair use because fair use implies good faith, and how can there be a good faith intent if the user does not have a legal copy of the material. With DRM a user cannot even access the material, so there is no practical argument that a particular use was fair. Rather, the user would have to argue that breaking the DRM (which would be a difficult argument after Corley), as well as whatever use he made, were both fair uses.
Elimination of the Public Domain
Works that have entered into the public domain and are no longer protected by copyright can be newly restricted by DRM. The Librarian of Congress has addressed this issue as it relates to literary works in his current rulemaking on Exemptions from Prohibition on Circumvention of Technological Measures.
Preservation & Archiving Issues
Making copies for backup purposes and to safeguard against the loss of information due to wear and tear is more important when it comes to electronic data because otherwise the library is solely at the mercy of the vendor as to the continued availability of the content. Furthermore, electronic media needs to be regularly switched over to new formats, operating systems, and devices so that the information doesn’t become obsolete because it can no longer be read. This is another issue the Librarian of Congress has addressed in his current rulemaking on Exemptions from Prohibition on Circumvention of Technological Measures.
Incompatibility for Users with Disabilities
DRM restrictions are often incompatible with assistive technology for disabled users. This is another area that has been addressed in the Librarian of Congress’ Exemptions from Prohibition on Circumvention of Technological Measures, both in 2010 and in the current rulemaking.
Compounded Confusion for Users
Users already face obstacles when it comes to accessing electronic library resources. With DRM, online research becomes even more difficult. There are often limitations on printing, copying, and pasting. Libraries are forced to have different terms for print and online resources.
It is much easier to track use electronically. Thus, the risk increases that these electronic-content providers may track, retain, and even sell information about users. This goes against the dedication of libraries to the “freedom to read,” or the right to read without the concern of surveillance.
Digital Rights Management (DRM) & Libraries, American Library Association, http://www.ala.org/advocacy/copyright/digitalrights (last visited Mar. 20, 2012).
Rulemaking on Exemptions from Prohibition on Circumvention of Technological Measures that Control Access to Copyrighted Works, United States Copyright Office (revised Feb. 7, 2011), http://www.copyright.gov/1201/2010/.
Exemption to Prohibition on Circumvention of Copyright Protection Systems for Access Control Technologies, United States Copyright Office (Dec. 1, 2011), http://www.copyright.gov/1201/2011/initial/.
Sarah Houghton-Jan, Imagine No Restrictions: Digital Rights Management, School Library Journal (Jun. 1, 2007), http://www.libraryjournal.com/article/CA6448189.html.
The Readers’ Bill of Rights for Digital Books, http://readersbillofrights.info/ (last visited Mar. 20, 2012).