April 20, 2007

SAE Publications Board Does A 180 Regarding Its Digital Library DRM and Licencing Issues

.: I am happy to report the following news. I was on the phone a few moments ago with a reliable contact here at the University of Alberta, who returned today from attending the SAE Congress in Detroit this week. According to my source (who remains anonymous until the "official" word gets out), the SAE Publications Board heard from many of its academic members regarding the SAE Digital Library (DL). A number of professors read SAE the Riot Act regarding both its airtight DRM restrictions as well as the DL licensing options, which are currently based on the estimated number of downloads per year. Having been made aware of how restrictive these policies are to its members and customers working in educational settings, SAE has apparently recognized the error of its ways.

As a result of the concerns brought forward by some of its membership, the word is that SAE has committed to rescinding its DRM policy, and change its licencing options to allow for an unrestricted number of downloaded papers and standards per educational site. Potentially this could happen within the next few weeks.

That is what I know so far. Stay tuned.

March 21, 2007

MIT Faculty and Libraries Refuse DRM; SAE Digital Library Canceled

.: This is making the rounds quickly. MIT has cancelled its subscription to the SAE Digital Library because of its severe DRM restrictions. Excerpt:

At a time when technology makes it possible to share research more quickly and broadly than ever before, and when innovative automotive research is a matter of global concern, SAE is limiting access to the research that has been entrusted to the society. In addition to imposing DRM on access to the papers for paid subscribers, the SAE also prevents information about its papers from being found through any channel other than the ones they control.

What does this mean? In contrast to information about research published by other engineering societies, which can be found in databases such as Google, ISI’s Web of Science, or the Compendex engineering database, information about SAE papers is only made available through SAE’s proprietary database. Such policies severely limit access to information about SAE papers, and are out of step with market norms.

January 20, 2006

Digital Rights Management: A Guide for Librarians

.: The Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP) of ALA has released a new 44-page document, prepared by Michael Godwin, called Digital Rights Management: A Guide for Librarians. Excerpt from the opening:

Not long ago, digital technologies were regarded as being entirely beneficial to the work of librarians, because such technologies were already enabling greater access to collected materials, greater ease and searching or organizing such materials, and greater ability to reproduce and archive creative works, historical documents, scholarly research, and other important resources. At its heart, this early perception of the usefulness of digital tools remains essentially correct. Nevertheless, the digital revolution has also inspired the development of a range of technological tools and strategies aimed at restricting the ease with which the resources collected and maintained by libraries can be used, circulated, excerpted, and reproduced.

These technological tools and strategies are generally referred to as “digital rights management”-- a term commonly reduced to the acronym “DRM.” To put the matter another way: “digital rights management” is a collective name for technologies that prevent you from using a copyrighted digital work beyond the degree to which the copyright owner (or a publisher who may not actually hold a copyright) wishes to allow you to use it. The primary purpose of this paper is to familiarize librarians, archivists, and others with DRM and how it works. Secondarily, this paper will outline certain legal and policy issues that are raised by DRM -- issues that will continue to have an increasing impact on the ways in which librarians and libraries perform their functions. To put the matter bluntly -- understanding the basics of DRM is becoming a necessary part of the work of librarians.

April 14, 2005

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.