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DMCA, DRM and The unFair Use Act 2011/09/09

Posted by nydawg in Archives, Copyright, Digital Preservation, Information Literacy, Intellectual Property, Media, Privacy & Security.
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A few weeks ago, I reserved a copy of a Clay Shirky e-Book to take with me to Chicago.  When the book became available from NYPL, I was excited and hoped it would be a DRM (Digital Rights Management)-free PDF copy so I could download it (click the emailed link) to my netbook and transfer it to my eReader Tablet.  (It was my first time, so I was clueless.)  Oh well.  Obviously you can’t do that. . . .  or maybe you can, on a Sony eReader and the York Library.

Yesterday an old friend on facebook asked about borrowing eComic Books with the intent of ultimately preserving on some portable medium.  So I was intrigued enough to do a little research on DRM and found this informative piece from the ASIS&T Bulletin website: “Digital rights management (DRM) is commonly defined as the set of technological protection measures (TPM) by which rights holders prevent the use of digital content they license in ways that could compromise the commercial value of their products.  Restrictions on such uses as downloading, printing, saving and emailing content are encoded directly in the products or the hardware needed to use them and are therefore in immediate effect.”

The whole article is worth reading, but this one part caught my eye: “The New York Public Library (NYPL), for instance, has been considering bringing its digitized collection of dance and performance videos closer to the public outside the NYPL system as long as it is possible to restrict access to this online content to library locations only. These examples show that DRM may actually provide opportunities to expand access to online materials in ways previously not possible.”  The essay continues by examining the DMCA and its relation to DRM, pointing out that “Since the DMCA was enacted in 1998, the Library of Congress has enforced exceptions three times – in 2000, 2003 and 2006 – and was scheduled to do so again in 2009. Of the six exceptions passed in 2006, one specifically allows film and media studies professors to circumvent TPM to make film clip compilations for coursework using DVD copies held by their institution’s film-studies library. A movement has been underway to expand this exception to include K-12 educators, all subject areas and all legally obtained copies.”

And to give you a sense of what is at stake, the author writes “In February 2007, the Fair Use Act was introduced in Congress, but never passed. It would have codified into law all six exceptions from 2006, which are currently rule-made and remain subject to periodic reviews. The Fair Use Act would have permitted the circumvention of TPM for, among other cases, (1) access to public domain works, (2) access to works of public interest for criticism, scholarship, reporting or research, (3) compilations of educational film clips and (4) preservation in libraries. The latter is of particular importance as the various media with historical content, including DVDs, begin to deteriorate. Smith argued that what frightens publishers about the Fair Use Act is that, if implemented, it would render ineffectual the anti-circumvention rules. Fair use would constitute an exception so broad that decisions regarding the right to circumvent would often be made after the actual circumvention. If a content owner objected, the user could take the matter to court, and only then would a judge decide whether fair use can justify that particular circumvention. The Fair Use Act would thus defeat the anti-circumvention rule’s self-help purpose.”

So in other words, the encryption that libraries are using is controlling access to their eBooks, and the anti-copy encryption that companies are using on their deteriorating DVDs are conspiring with the law to keep libraries from providing open access in the future to our resources.  I say instead of “Fair Use Act”, we need a “Fair Copy Act” so libraries will be free to begin their media refreshment, digital migration and whatever they need to do to make sure their media collections do not become time capsules, moments of time captured on obsolete media formats.



From Scroll to Screen and Back: Vendor Lock-In and eBooks 2011/09/04

Posted by nydawg in Best Practices, Digital Archives, Digital Humanities, Digital Preservation, Information Literacy, Information Technology (IT).
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I saw an interesting article in the NYTimes titled “From Scroll to Screen” which looks at the transition in print media over the last two thousand years.  While the author is specifically looking at the transition from books to eBooks, he declares, “The last time a change of this magnitude occurred was circa 1450, when Johannes Gutenberg invented movable type. But if you go back further there’s a more helpful precedent for what’s going on. Starting in the first century A.D., Western readers discarded the scroll in favor of the codex — the bound book as we know it today.”

Like many archivists and librarians, I am also highly interested in how this transition will work in the future.  Last year I read William Powers‘ excellent Hamlet’s Blackberry which led me to new ways of thinking about media and different formats used to carry data and information between different stakeholders across time and space. . . .

So this article in the NYTimes by book critic Lev Grossman caught my interest when discussing how one format replaces the previous:  “In the classical world, the scroll was the book format of choice and the state of the art in information technology. Essentially it was a long, rolled-up piece of paper or parchment. To read a scroll you gradually unrolled it, exposing a bit of the text at a time; when you were done you had to roll it back up the right way, not unlike that other obsolete medium, the VHS tape.”

He goes on to explain how those scrolls were items of prestige, probably because of the “scarcity” of scroll-creators.  “Scrolls were the prestige format, used for important works only: sacred texts, legal documents, history, literature. To compile a shopping list or do their algebra, citizens of the ancient world wrote on wax-covered wooden tablets using the pointy end of a stick called a stylus. Tablets were for disposable text — the stylus also had a flat end, which you used to squash and scrape the wax flat when you were done. At some point someone had the very clever idea of stringing a few tablets together in a bundle. Eventually the bundled tablets were replaced with leaves of parchment and thus, probably, was born the codex. But nobody realized what a good idea it was until a very interesting group of people with some very radical ideas adopted it for their own purposes. Nowadays those people are known as Christians, and they used the codex as a way of distributing the Bible.”

And anyone who has ever tried to compare two or more passages in a book  on an ereader, you may be interested to read: “The codex also came with a fringe benefit: It created a very different reading experience. With a codex, for the first time, you could jump to any point in a text instantly, nonlinearly.”   This doesn’t quite work as easily in the tablet or eReader age, but stay tuned, as I imagine at some point they will improve on the technology.   “If the fable of the scroll and codex has a moral, this is it. We usually associate digital technology with nonlinearity, the forking paths that Web surfers beat through the Internet’s underbrush as they click from link to link. But e-books and nonlinearity don’t turn out to be very compatible.

So as we move from the tried and trusted durable medium of the codex and hard-cover book (even if printed on cheap paper) to the electronic tablet (early versions, soon-to-be-obsolete operating systems, playing outdated versions), our content management expertise and digital asset curator skills should become more valuable as new technologies eveolve and media formats become obsolete and disposable and our culture is at-risk.

But our hands are tied.   Even to address the pressing concerns of eBooks and eReaders and tablets, archivists are left out in the cold.  We dare not say anything about the vendor lock-in regarding Kindle’s proprietary formats, because they are Amazon’s Intellectual Property.  We cannot say anything about vendor lock-out in regards to Apple’s iPad tablet not playing (hot) Flash videos (see Steve Jobs “Thoughts on Flash”), and causing problems when accessing Fedora through its Flash application.  We cannot even mention the fact that iPads do not have any support for portable SD card and USB 2.0 external drives.  In other words, if you want to get information on (or off) your iPad, you probably have to email or upload it. . .  😦

So what can we do?  Or, more clearly, what should a digital archivist know to catalog and describe when working with born-digital materials?!  Well, of course there’s so much (not everything entirely relevant though!), but at the very least, better format (not just medium, but format, and maybe codec) descriptions can create better strategies leading to better plans, processes and best practices.  And keep your damn books!

I’ll admit that I finally broke down and bought an eReader.  Since I was going to be travelling to Chicago for the SAA, there were many articles I wanted to read and think about in advance, so for the last few months I was searching for the right one.  Of course, I was quite wary of Kindles because of the proprietary format and wasn’t sure how well it would read PDFS (or if it could), but friends suggested the Digital Reader or Sony eReader, and at least one friend suggested checking out the Nook from Barnes and Noble.

I wasn’t really sure what I wanted, and I ddn’t really care that much.  Basically, anything that would let me read PDFs, most of which I would download from the internet or specifically, the Society of American Archivists‘ (SAA), American Archivist journal.  Of course, I also found some excellent reads on Project Gutenberg and Internet Archive (where, btw, they’re preserving physical books!).  I’m really interested in the e-ink technology, so that was one factor, and the other factor was that I didn’t want to pay more than $130.  (Another factor, on which I thought I would have to compromise was that I wanted an eReader with two screens that would open like a book.)

Well, as you might expect, my research was not leading me to any answers, and I had almost decided to just go with one or the other (whichever was cheapest), and know it would be a temporary solution, until I can afford to buy a nice tablet computer . . . . .But then one day, I got an email offer from Woot for a one-day only clearance sale of all 2-screen dualbook (eReader & Tablet) from Entourage Pocket Edge!!  So I picked that up and I love it. . .. (Yes, there’s problems, but for reading pdfs and drawing on a journal or annotating pdfs and surfing the web on the tablet side, and etc. )   Maybe I’ll write more on it later, but for now, I hope you’ll just give a long thought about what we’ll lose if we give up functional non-linearity in our published works! (and I don’t mean Digital Humanities people with their datamining techniques..)

There’s an eBook Lock-In War Going On 2011/08/13

Posted by nydawg in Digital Archives, Information Technology (IT), Intellectual Property.
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Many friends of nydawg are well aware of previous discussions we’ve had about vendor lock-in with Kindle texts, so this may not be “news” per sec, but it is worth a little consideration in light of the fact that Amazon was      “The fight has largely gone on behind the scenes – the most obvious consumer-visible part of it has been the fluctuating prices for ebooks. Now it threatens to burst into full public view, with a class-action lawsuit filed in CA this week alleging that ebook publishers colluded (illegally) with Apple to fix the prices of ebooks.

The simple view of things – as presented in the suit – is that Amazon was working to force e-book prices down and the publishers decided they didn’t want to play ball. In fact it’s a complex situation revolving around who gets to set the prices for ebooks and whether or not a publisher will be locked in to a model or technology.  Initially, the retailer (Amazon) set the prices we would pay for ebooks as they do with physical books. Publishers charge the retailer a price but the retailer had the freedom to charge more or less than that price. In order to encourage adoption of its Kindle and to boost the nascent ebook industry, Amazon priced the ebooks low – often well below hardcover and even paperback prices. ”   Read about the “copyfight” here: http://copyfight.corante.com/archives/2011/08/12/theres_an_ebook_war_going_on.php

and this all reminds us of a story earlier in the year when The NYTimes announced “e-Books Outsell Print Books”:

“Since April 1, Amazon sold 105 books for its Kindle e-reader for every 100 hardcover and paperback books, including books without Kindle versions and excluding free e-books.  “We had high hopes that this would happen eventually, but we never imagined it would happen this quickly,” said Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s chief executive, in a statement. “We’ve been selling print books for 15 years and Kindle books for less than four years.”  But people should not exile their bookshelves to storage quite yet, many analysts warned. Over all,
e-books account for about 14 % of general consumer fiction & nonfiction books sold, according to Forrester Research.

or do you remember from 2009 when Wired covered “Amazon’s E-Book Strategy Re-Kindles Debate on Open Standards” : While many salivated over this week’s arrival of “theiPod of the book world,” supporters of open e-book standards are opining anew that the Kindle’s proprietary format is not only bad for readers but, in the long run, probably for Amazon as well.

Either Amazon will succeed in locking people in, at which point it will become a kind of mashup of the worst elements of the Recording Industry Association of America, Microsoft and the mafia, or they’ll fail,” said Cory Doctorow, open source advocate, science-fiction author and co-editor of Boing Boing.   The issue isn’t about DRM protections on the books, but on Amazon’s decision to create — and now perpetuate — a non-portable format that a) denies readers the ability to read e-books they buy from the company on another device and b) books they might buy from an e-books competitor on the Kindle.