Defective by Design

Libraries: No DRM!

We call upon public libraries around the world to remove the unethical Digital Restrictions Management (DRM) technologies currently locking down many of their digital collections. DRM compromises public trust for the sake of providing limited access to popular works to some in the short-term. As concerned patrons, we request that libraries immediately establish policies against the use of DRM technologies.

DRM requires users to cede control of their computers to third-party corporations, so they can restrict when and how they may access "checked out" books or audio files. This is an inappropriate and unethical requirement for a public library to impose on its patrons. The notion of checking something out is based on physical scarcity -- to be manufacturing scarcity where none exists is entirely contrary to a library's mission.

Libraries that use DRM are submitting patrons to the onerous and unethical legal terms involved with purchasing, installing, and using software such as Microsoft Windows and the Windows Media Player. In the case of Microsoft Windows, this entails agreeing to terms that allow Microsoft to delete software and data that the user legally owns and has created or installed on their own machines. For a library to require their patrons to agree to such End User License Agreements as a prerequisite for gaining access to its collection is an injustice.

These software requirements drive the sales of DRM technology vendors, such as Microsoft and OverDrive, providing an incentive for patrons to discontinue using software and materials that do not impose DRM. The common argument that DRM and proprietary software are necessary because publishers require them becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, because the library is using its own market power to encourage their use, hurting the emergence of competing alternatives in the process.

Random House, the largest publisher of eBooks and audio books worldwide, recently announced its decision to drop DRM from the vast majority of its catalog. Random House made this decision after doing a study which found zero cases of DRM-free works being shared illegally. They found that it was ONLY the DRMed titles that were being shared.

The fear, uncertainty, and doubt used by the software industry to convince publishers and distributors to use DRM has blindsided the public and institutions of public trust. Little consideration has been given to the ethical and long-term implications of accepting and encouraging the use of DRM. Defending the public interest means thwarting DRM.

For these reasons, we ask that libraries immediately embargo the use of DRM on their collections and establish formal policies against it. There are undoubtedly many challenges facing libraries today that need to be considered, but few can be as timely or as important as the way the library defines itself and its role in our digital age.

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