Sunday, July 01, 2007

checking out bytes

It's always interesting to see old distribution models applied to new media, and especially humourous when those models enforce constraints that simply don't apply to bytes. So I had a chuckle when I learned about the OverDrive distribution system being used by the BC Libraries to offer audio books to patrons.

I was pleased to hear that our library system now offered audio books as a direct download (yay!) and disappointed (but not surprised) to learn that DRM was involved (boo!). The chuckle came, however, when I read this snippet from the BC Libraries web site:

"You may have a maximum of 5 titles checked out from the Digital Library.
Downloaded titles are checked out for 14 days and are automatically returned to the library."

"Checked out"? "Returned"? What, do the bytes magically travel back from my computer or MP3 player to their home servers [giggle]? Such restrictions make sense in a world where you are actually borrowing a book or physical media; as long as you have the atoms in your hand, no one else can use them. But downloaded bytes?

I doubt, of course, that our library system lobbied for these restrictions - such concessions were likely by the publishers as a key condition to making them available through the library system at all. But when the gap between the fluid availability of bytes and centuries-old distribution model designed for physical objects becomes so glaringly obvious, it's only a matter of time before someone takes advantage of this inefficiency.

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