Balanced copyright and digital audiobooks

Copyfight has this posting, “Lending? To whom?” by Alan Wexelblat. I tried to comment on the posting there, but the comment function appears to lead to neverneverland, so…

Here’s the portion of the post that I found troubling from a balanced-copyright position (and as a library supporter/person):

It’s Friday, so it must be stupid ideas time again. AP story (here on SiliconValley.com) to the effect that some libraries are “lending” audiobooks via download. The period of lending is controlled via DRM, which locks you out of the file if you run over your time.

This strikes me as a pinnacle of absurdity – lending libraries impose time limits on physical volumes because my possession of the book prevents another patron from reading it. Downloads… um, DON’T. All the patrons could download the same book and no one’s having a copy on their hard disk would impede another’s listening pleasure.

If you believe that copyright is irrelevant in a digital world, then this argument makes perfectly good sense. Or, for that matter, if you believe that creators/distributors of digital resources don’t deserve compensation even remotely similar to that provided for creators/distributors of physical resources, then fine.

Otherwise, I don’t see the argument. This lending model is precisely that: A lending model. The library’s paid for the right to have one copy of the audio ebook in use at any one time. How is that different than lending a book?

I suppose libraries could only license audio ebooks on an “unlimited simultaneous circulation” basis. I’m guessing the costs would be just a trifle higher, at least if authors/publishers have anything to say about it, since that would push the inherent friction between library models and copyright/royalty models into extreme visibility.

Some authors hate the idea of library circulation because they believe–wrongly, in my opinion–that they’re being robbed of royalties for additional copies. (As opposed to gaining new readers and popularity…) In some countries, libraries are required to pay (directly or indirectly) a fee each time an item is circulated. That fee isn’t as high as a standard royalty payment, to be sure; it’s a compromise between American first-sale rights and an absolute hardline “every use must fully compensate the creator” policy.

Without such a fee, I don’t see how it’s fair to creators/distributors to argue that libraries should be able to distribute an unlimited number of copies of anything–be it audio ebook, regular ebook, or whatever–while paying for one such copy.

I’m not wild about any DRM–but Wexelblat’s post reminds me that there may be some areas where DRM is essential because people don’t believe good faith and fair dealing are issues in the “digital world.” Unfortunately, that makes it easier for Big Media to argue for extreme DRM, where everything not expressly permitted is forbidden.

One Response to “Balanced copyright and digital audiobooks”

  1. Michael Sauers Says:

    Thanks for the pointer to this. I’ve explained my opinion in response:http://www.travelinlibrarian.info/2005/08/more-on-ebooks-drm-and-libraries.html


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