Libraries and digital publishers at odds over DRM

Ever since eBook technology was developed, there has been a tension between publishers and libraries. The digital nature of the content makes it particularly easy to share, which seemingly makes it ideal for library use as well. However, in order to prevent unrestrained, illegal sharing of works on the internet, publishers have had to develop digital rights management (DRM) tools. But while helping to cut back on piracy to a certain extent, DRM has complicated the issue of library borrowing.

As Computerworld recently reported, these controversies are far from resolved. Libraries are still struggling to reach a comprehensive agreement with the electronic publishing industry when it comes to allowing patrons to borrow eBooks.

A tricky situation

"We can understand where the publishers are coming from, but we want to make eBooks available to the maximum number of people," Ian Littleworth, chair of the Association of Public Library Managers, told the news provider.

The news source noted that many library personnel believe that increasing circulation of eBooks via borrowing will lead to a greater number of eBook purchases as people are exposed to books that they decide they'd like to own. According to Littleworth, this has been the experience of printed books.

Littleworth told the news source that under the current system, libraries are simply unable to afford as many licenses for DRM-protected eBooks as they would like due to budgetary restraints. Consequently, library patrons' options and access to eBooks are limited.

Greater conflicts on the horizon

This problem will likely become even more pronounced in the near as more people learn about eBook borrowing options. As a recent Pew survey revealed, 62 percent of respondents, including 58 percent of library card holders and 53 percent of tablet computer owners, did not know if their library offered eBook lending programs or not despite the fact that more than three-quarters of all U.S. libraries provide this option.

Perhaps even more notably, among American readers of eBooks aged 16 and older, only 12 percent had borrowed an eBook from a library in the past 12 months.

Considering how many people are currently unaware of the fact that they can borrow eBooks from their local library, it is likely that demand for eBook borrowing options will increase dramatically as awareness of this service option becomes more widespread.

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