Apple/EMI, DRM and libraries

I found hope in today’s press conference where EMI announced it will offer its music catalog on iTunes without the digital rights management.

I develop our library’s music and video collections and have been disappointed with the options available for “lending” patrons digital materials because invariably the digital rights management locks out Mac, Linux and iPod users. My hope is that EMI’s decision will reverberate through the system to where libraries will be able to better serve these minority platforms.

Last year I talked with the leading suppliers of digital materials— Recorded Books and Overdrive. While Recorded Books provides a nice instant collection on a subscription basis, it can only be used by Windows users. Overdrive, meanwhile, is also Windows-based, but at least the company allows personal CD burning.

I like that the CD burning capability opens the service to patrons who don’t even own media players. In theory, you could take the CDs and rip them for use on iPods. However, even with this more liberal policy, minority platform users are still locked out of the service.

While I do not know how digital “lending” would work without DRM, I am hoping that the Apple-EMI announcement will eventually clear the way for companies to offer services that I in turn can offer to all digital patrons— not just those using Windows.

For our library DRM is statistically not a deal breaker, merely a royal pain.

Less than 10 percent of our users responding to an online poll are iPod users. Similarly, according to our website statistics, minority platforms are under 6 percent and dialup users are just under 20 percent. Thus, a good number of our digital patrons could use these services.

Nonetheless, why can I not serve all my patrons?

For the record: I use Macs and iPods and this issue indeed frustrates me on a personal as well as professional level.