Posted by Lori Ayre on February 27, 2011

This appears to be the last straw.  Keep struggling with ebook DRM or boycott?

Librarians have been trying to make sense of ebooks and ebook readers and, even more difficult, to help library customers make sense of using these devices and the  digital objects “owned” by the library.  Theoretically, it should be easy, right?  It’s digital so more than one person can read/access/use an ebook at a time.  And, they don’t wear out….cuz they are electronic!  Pages don’t tear, covers don’t come off, they won’t be damaged by sand, coffee, grubby hands or doggie teeth!

Despite the hell of making sense of DRM for customers, librarians have valiantly worked to do just that so their customers could benefit from using ebooks on their device of choice.  And magically, ebook use has been going up and up.  Libraries have even started to reduce some of their physical collection size in favor of ebooks because, despire the PITA factor, they have their advantages.

Oh but then this happened.  Harper Collins announced that THEIR ebooks could only be loaned out 26 times. And you could only use them one at a time.  How quaint!  Kind of like a book only without the benefits of owning the book!

Librarians are angry.  It seems like it might be time to put our collective feet down and say no to this DRM bullshit.  Publishers need to figure out the benefits of digital technology and use that to their advantage instead of crippling it and making life so difficult for consumers, librarians, and especially library ebook users.  If you don’t (I’m talking to you library ebook vendors and ebook publishers!), it may all just backfire on you.


Here’s some excerpts from posts around libraryland about the issue:

Librarian By Day ( explains the issue well.  The quote below is from a letter sent by OverDrive to their customers:

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.

From Free Range Librarian (

I’m most perturbed by the long-range implications of an economic model — already based on “license” versus “ownership” — that, if adopted by other publishers, would destroy the role literature plays as our culture’s “memory work” — the growing opus collected and managed by libraries that help shape who we are as humans. Witness the hue and cry over the possible closure of Scripps.

For popular titles bought in quantity that would be replaced or weeded in a year or two, there’s a weak logic to this model. 26 sounds like 26 two-week loans. That’s one year of lending, assuming a standard 2-week period where borrowers return books at the end of the lending period (I wonder if anyone knows this; perhaps  looked at lease titles to develop this model).  At that point, one LJ commenter reasoned, a popular title might well be either weeded or replaced for wear and tear.

But libraries are only partly about the here-and-now. We’re also about preserving the cultural record. We cannot preserve ephemerally-licensed “content” that can be wrenched from us at the discretion of giant corporations. Right now, it appears the only safe technology for the cultural record, in terms of traditionally-published books, is the dead-tree format. I am not being technologically-backward to say that; I’m being culturally forward.

From Librarian in Black (


But this is a decision that treats libraries like freeloaders, like the cousin who crashes on your couch “for a week” between jobs and is still there months later, running up your electric bill and eating your good cheese. Libraries are a vital part of the publishing world, the friend who borrows a cup of sugar, and brings back your measuring cup with a cake. It’s really good cake, too, delicious enough to make the borrowed sugar a negligible cost. Don’t break down our door in the middle of the night, demanding that we give back a pound of sugar for every cup we’ve ever borrowed. Enjoy the damn cake.


And here’s the official Boycott Harper Collins site: