DRM now the ‘biggest issue’ in preserving information for the future

A model of a library, in a library (Shoreditch College/Brunel University, Runnymede)

The Guardian has an interview with Richard Masters, of the British Library’s digital objects management programme looking at the impact of technology on archiving. The usual worries about file formats, media incompatability and how to select what to preserve and what not to are discussed, but:

The biggest issue is digital rights management. At the moment, acting as an honest broker between the public interest and the individual rights holders is incredibly difficult. Much more so than with printed material that is physically deposited on your site. Many electronic property holders lease material and specifically prohibit copying for preservation purposes. The law, as it stands, is on their side. The rights holders are terrified – rightly so in my view – that once it’s in the public domain it can be copied any number of times illicitly without any redress.”

Masters makes the “rightly so in my view” comment, but doesn’t make the point that if the same attitude had been taken to preserving books in the first place (“we can’t put them in a public library, someone might copy them!”), there would be no public libraries and no British Library.*

As I see it, as a member of the public, if my tax money is going to be spent in any way upholding copyright, I want that benefit for rightsholders to come with a benefit for the public interest, i.e. that the rightsholders must permit copies to be made for the public interest, with no DRM or other technical restrictions in place.

* In the UK, as far as I know, it is an obligation for all publishers to send copies of anything they publish to the ‘legal deposit libraries’ (British Library, University of Cambridge, Bodleian, Aberystwyth, Edinburgh and Trinity College Dublin). I’ve done it; I don’t think I was permitted to send the books with the pages glued shut, so why should electronic media creators be allowed to submit DRM’d material?

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