Tag Archives: Microsoft

Comments on Google Book Search Settlement Coming to a Head (Again)

Ah, it is the beginning of September when thoughts turn to going back to school, the days turn a little colder (in the northern hemisphere) and the smell of lawsuit briefs is in the air. Well, okay — the latter might not be what you expect, but this is a special September, after all. Postponed from MayL1, the deadline for filing comments in the Google Book Search settlement is coming up. And everyone is weighing in (”again” for some) on the details of the settlement. A couple of highlights.

The American Library Association (ALA), the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) and the Association of Research Libraries (ARL)L2 again offered its support for the settlement, if only the court would promise to extend vigorous oversight of pricing and privacy practices of Google and the Books Rights Registry. This came in the form of a supplemental filingL3 to the briefL4 the three organizations filed in MayL5 (just prior to the first comment deadline). Continue reading

FTC Digital Rights Management town hall meeting: summing up

From Teleread, author not listed:

FTC Digital Rights Management town hall meeting: summing up

Posted: 26 Mar 2009 09:39 AM PDT

I have had a day to think about what I saw at the FTC’s town hall meeting on Digital Rights Management yesterday, and what it might mean for the future of DRM. The conference fell into the classic “good news, bad news” scenario.

Unrealistic Expectations

The good news is that the FTC is now more aware than ever of the difficulties to consumers implicit in Digital Rights Management (especially since they received over 800 public comments, which they admitted during the meeting they had not managed to work all the way through yet). The bad news is that it is not the FTC’s brief to adjudicate matters relating to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and fair use, or even anti-trust concerns relating to non-interoperable DRM.

The FTC is chiefly concerned with unfair and deceptive business practices. (For example, in the other big FTC story of the day, the FTC announced yesterday it was suing Dish Network for making telemarketing calls to people listed on the national Do Not Call Registry.)

If companies make deceptive statements in advertising about the limitations of their DRM, the FTC will look into it. If companies release DRM that harms the consumer (as in the infamous Sony rootkit debacle), they will investigate and possibly sanction. But they can’t do anything to let you copy DVDs to your video iPod when the DMCA forbids it. Talk to Congress about that.

That being said, the meeting was of great interest just for the open discussion of DRM among big guns from both consumer-advocacy and commercial trade groups. Anyone who did not realize DRM was a contentious issue before would certainly have gotten an earful.

Potential Remedies

Though some speakers were not terribly exciting (one read a ten-minute prepared statement in a sleep-inducing monotone; another rambled on at length about a “thought experiment” involving taking a bus full of developing-country representatives to a shopping mall that made no sense either during or after the speech), most of them had good points to make, pro or con.

Several potential DRM remedies were discussed, including

  • a logo-based disclosure system like ESRB or MPAA ratings so consumers would be able to see at a glance what DRM was on a product
  • making DRM systems more interoperable, or adding “exception handling” so DRM would permit more fair uses
  • DRM-using companies depositing keys and source code in escrow so that if they went bankrupt consumers would be able to crack the DRM and have access to the media they paid for afterward.

These took on a character of “pie in the sky,” however, given that imposing such solutions is generally outside the FTC’s brief. For example, making DRM more interoperable would be difficult given that companies generally have a vested interest in making sure their DRM works for them alone. (Apple’s stranglehold on the digital music industry due to its Fairplay DRM was brought up more than once.)

The FTC Takes Questions

One of the more interesting panels to me was the very last, in which representatives of the FTC got in the hot seat to field questions and comments as to what they might actually do about DRM. The answer: as stated above, not a whole lot.

Nonetheless, the first question fielded was one that I emailed, and I was even mentioned by both real name and moniker. (I had asked that TeleRead be mentioned as the source, but they forgot.) I pointed out that Amazon owned the Mobipocket e-book format, currently used by many of its e-book competitors, and asked what the FTC would be willing to do if they decided to stop licensing that format.

The FTC panel replied that they could not address specific what-if scenarios, but they could talk about similar investigations they had done in the past. They talked about their investigation into Microsoft when Microsoft wanted to get out of the music business and shut down its DRM servers—meaning that consumers would no longer be able to play the music they had bought from Microsoft. They closed the investigation after Microsoft agreed to keep its servers turned on.

All in all, the FTC town hall meeting was an interesting event, and worthwhile in that it fostered public discussion and debate about DRM that might end up educating more people about its disadvantages. But those who expected any solid commitments will be left disappointed.

Other Coverage

Here is a roundup of other articles I have found covering the town hall meeting.

Oren’s Weblog has excellent panel-by-panel summaries of the event (though Oren did not chronicle the sixth panel, in which the FTC answered questions about what measures it might take):

Content Agenda looks at the meeting here; the Copyright and Technology blog has coverage here. Brad’s Reader looks at some implications for e-books here. Here is a PDF article laying out a system of logo-based disclosure of DRM on download products of the sort that was proposed at the meeting.

Ars Technica also has an article summing up the first few panels that came before the lunch break.

Tim O’Reilly: Kindle needs open ePub-style standard to survive, from Teleread.org

Tim O’Reilly: Kindle needs open ePub-style standard to survive
www.teleread.org – Posted: 23 Feb 2009 08:40 AM CST
“Unless Amazon embraces open e-book standards like ‘epub,’ which allow readers to read books on a variety of devices, the Kindle will be gone within two or three years.” – Tim O’Reily in Why Kindle should be an open book, in Forbes.

The TeleRead take: It’s hard to tell how things will shake out, but Tim persuasively summons up a little history—Microsoft’s failed attempt with the Microsoft Network publishing platform. By contrast, O’Reilly got on the Web early with the Global Net Navigator and in time was well rewarded for the experience it gained with an open approach.

The point is, closed standards are a pain in the rear for e-book-lovers and other users who inevitably will want hardware or content that isn’t compatible with MegaCorp’s system. This disillusionment is a little akin to decaying Web links. At first, people buy into Mega’s plans and think that its  proprietary product line will endure forever. Only later do the hassles emerge.

E-book lessons from Oprah’s past
Remember how Oprah touted Gemstar e-book readers some years ago? But then consumers rebelled against a limited choice of books. Even now, following her backing of the Kindle, Oprah fans are finding that many O-blessed books are missing. Last I knew, she wasn’t doing a K version of her O magazine. Her fans may also have been put off by the complexities of the technology, to which proprietary formats can add.

While Jeff Bezos can talk of offering every book in E, he’s jeopardizing his own version by aiming for exclusives. What happens when other giants step in and start bidding wars—not just for temporary exclusivity but in time for the permanent variety?

The score that really counts in book-selling

More importantly, Jeff should also remember that the most meaningful score in the book-selling isn’t market share but healthy growth of earnings. Closed standards like the Kindle’s will slow down the rate of e-book adoption, as people find that his supposedly universal solution isn’t one at all.

What’s more, with Kindle-type DRM, all kinds of nasty issues emerge, such as the inability of readers to own their books for real. Jeff was smart enough to set up a music store without DRM. He should consider the the same for e-books, using social DRM, if need be, in place of “real” DRM. Publishers could still have the option of using DRM, but I suspect that market pressures would encourage back off from this consumer nightmare. DRM is especially nasty in that it turns nonproprietary e-formats into proprietary ones.
Technorati Tags: Tom O’Reilly,O’Reilly Media

OverDrive now works with Zune

If you are one of the 8,500 libraries using the OverDrive Media Console for digital audiobooks, you now have a new feature – compatibility with Microsoft’s Zune.  Both DRM-free and DRM-protected (Digital Rights Management) audiobooks are compatible.  This now opens up the direct transfer of audiofiles to Zune, iPod, and virtually all other mp3 devices.

For the full story, check out OverDrive’s press release.

or, skip the full story and just download the Media Console.

DRM – What is it and why should libraries care?

What is DRM?

DRM stands for Digital Rights Management, coding added to digital content to control access.  DRM prevents copying, editing, and sharing of digital files.   You may have come across DRM in your personal use of digital music or digital video recorders.  More importantly, if your library offers or plans to offer ebooks, audiobooks, DVDs, and other media, usage of this content will be controlled by DRM.

Why is DRM used?

To protect copyright. Media and publishing companies want to protect their content from piracy, illegal copying or editing, and sharing, ie. to control access.

DRM is controversial.

Many people feel that DRM prohibits the fair use of media by the majority of the general public.  For example, some DRM programs prevent the creation of backup copies of music and DVDs, printing of ebooks, recording of TV shows or movies for home viewing, and the selection of some hand held devices, since Sony and Apple use different DRM software.  Additionally, DRM is now supported by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a consumer advocacy group for the networked world says “the DMCA has become a serious threat that jeopardizes fair use, impedes competition and innovation, chills free expression and scientific research, and interferes with computer intrusion laws.”

Why should I care about DRM?

DRM is particularly relevant to libraries since many are providing digital media in the form of ebooks, audiobooks, digital music and videos, and software and games.  Chances are the media you are purchasing to deliver digitally is controlled with DRM software.  For libraries, the DRM software prevents copying and editing of digital content, controls printing of ebooks, and magically makes the digital content “disappear” after a due date, even if patrons have downloaded a copy to their personal computer, external storage device, or a hand held device.

If you purchase ebooks or audiobooks from aggregators and distributors such as:  EBL, ebrary, Follett Digital Resources, Gale Virtual Reference Library, NetLibrary, and OverDrive, you will have digital content with DRM, so it’s important to understand DRM and how it is used by each of the vendors.
More information on DRM can be found here:

American Library Association

Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF)

Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC)

How Stuff Works

Microsoft

Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA)

Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA)