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Digital Rights Management and Referex

:: We have been interested for some time in subscribing to Referex Engineering, the online full-text reference collection from Engineering Information:

Referex Engineering comprises three carefully crafted collections combining key sources of reference material. Content ranges from broad based engineering titles to highly specialized professional reference texts, provided an extensive and detailed base of reference material to support researchers, academics, R&D engineers, technicians and corporate engineers alike in their diverse work processes.
The three subject areas are Chemical, Petrochemical and Process, Mechanical and Materials, and Electronics and Electrical, all areas of great interest to us. To date, we have subscribed to Knovel, and a number of CRCnetBASE collections including ENG, CHEM, MATERIALS, NANO, ENVIRO, and FOOD.

We were hoping to add Referex to our collection, which would have made it stronger and of increased relevance to our engineering community, one of the most prestigious in North America at the moment. But the DRM (Digital Rights Management) component, which severely restricts access to Referex, has made the decision to subscribe to Referex untenable, and for now, we are reluctantly passing on subscribing to what appears to be a great product.

The DRM used by Referex is called WebPublisher3. It requires a plug-in to be installed on any computer accessing Referex. What the FAQ about DRM in Referex Engineering states is that authenticated users can copy, print, save and e-mail Referex content as pdf files, and these saved files can be opened on any computer which is authenticated to use Referex. But if working with an offline computer like a laptop, users must be on the computer they used to save the file(s) to view them. In other words, if a user saves a pdf file to a smart key or disc, and then tries to open it later on a laptop which isn't connected to a network, it won't open. However, we learned subsequently that a document saved can only be viewed on the machine used to access Referex and download the information, an even more severe restriction. Consider how impossible this would be to manage in a library with dozens of PAC stations on multiple floors. Each time someone used Referex, they would need to be aware, almost inherently, that to view the document they just saved, they would need to return to the same machine to view it. Word is, however, that Ei is working with the DRM software vendor to allow for more flexibility.

Another drawback is that Referex won't work on Mac computers, effectively eliminating (and alienating) a number of our users.

The plug-in is also of concern. My understanding is that IT staff would need to install the plug-in on every PAC station in every library, something that would take an enormous amount of time, energy, money and staff. I have been waiting for confirmation that this is what would need to be done, but am hoping I am wrong, and that the plug-in could be installed on a LAN.

With DRM added into Referex, my sense is that the product may have been designed with Ei's corporate clients in mind, rather than those of us in universities, colleges and engineering schools. DRM in Referex doesn't allow for use by students who will migrate from machine to machine.

I am a huge fan of Ei products, and have worked with Ei since 1993 in an advisory capacity. We are heavy users of Compendex, and have been spreading the word about its new RSS feeds option to our users. I'm hoping Ei can sort through this and make Referex more attractive and useful to those of us in libraries with a large user base. Knovel and CRC Press have been able to do it without any problems of which I am aware, and we are pleased with both products regarding access concerns. In the meantime, is anyone out there in academic libraries using Referex? If so, how have you worked around these issues?

Meantime, read the paper, Digital Rights Management: A failure in the developed world, a danger to the developing world (pdf or html), from the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

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