or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk


Potential, Tested

   February 26th, 2009 Brian Herzog

Unshelved Comic Strip from 9/27/08In December, I had a series of posts concerning Overdrive's mp3 audiobooks. At the time, they were brand-new to my library, and I hadn't had a chance to experiment with them. Now I have.

Since Overdrive was previously so top-heavy with the DRM, I was curious just how "mp3" their mp3 files would be - would they be totally open like mp3 files should be, or would they be pseudo-mp3s, still with some kind of DRM wrapper or innards?

I never feel like I really understand something until I'm able to take it apart and put it back together to see where the flaws are, so here are the results of my experimenting:

During the checkout process (which still requires five clicks to accomplish after finding a book and entering my library card number), Overdrive hits you with their mp3 terms of service. Items 3 and 4 below are what really come into play here:

The title(s) and file(s) in MP3 format ("Content") you have selected to download are licensed to your Library under an agreement with OverDrive, Inc. who is authorized to supply the Library with the Content by publishers and other copyright holders. Prior to accessing the Content, you are required to accept and agree to be bound to the Terms of Use as described below.

Please read the following carefully and click 'Yes' to accept to continue for access to the titles or 'No' to decline should you not agree.

  1. I agree to be bound by the applicable laws that apply to my use of the Content and the library download media service ("Service"). I acknowledge that the Content embodies the intellectual property of a third party and is protected by law. All rights, titles, and interest in the Content are reserved, and I do not acquire any ownership rights in the Content as a result of downloading Content.
  2. I will only use the Content for my own personal, non-commercial use. I will not, perform, sell, distribute, transmit, assign, sell, broadcast, rent, share, lend, modify, adapt, edit, sub-license, or otherwise transfer the Content.
  3. The license granted to me to use the Content is for a one-time limited right to borrow the Content for a specific, library designated, limited duration ("Lending Period"). I agree and acknowledge that at the end of the Lending Period all rights to access the Content expire and terminate.
  4. At the end of the Lending Period, I will delete and/or destroy any and all copies of the Content, including any copies that may have been transferred to, or created on portable devices, storage media, removable drives, CDs & DVDs.
  5. I acknowledge that the library is providing access to the Content as a service to me so long as I and other users of this Service abide by these Terms of Use. In the event the library, OverDrive, or rights holder determine you or other users of this Service are violating these Terms of Use, the Library and/or OverDrive reserves the right to suspend or terminate your ability to use the Service and to borrow Content.

Click 'Yes' to indicate that you agree to these terms and to proceed to checkout.

Click 'No' to indicate that you do not agree to these terms. You will be directed back to your bookbag where you can remove MP3 title(s) should you want to check out titles in other formats.

The legal limits are clear, but I still wanted to know what was possible. My patrons ask me these things, and I think an informed answer is better than "I dunno, I never tried it."

So I downloaded the rights and the mp3 files for the book Little Brother, by Cory Doctorow, and waited our two week loan period. After the two weeks, when I tried to open the book through the Overdrive Media Console (OMC), the software deleted any obvious trace of the mp3 files from my computer. If I wanted to listen to the book again, I would have to download all 327MB of it again - which is no small time investment.

I was surprised that the OMC deleted it, but decided that since the software knew the path to the mp3 files, it might be the only weapon Overdrive has to enforce their terms of service.

So I downloaded the book again. This time, in addition to opening the book through the Media Console, I also copied the mp3 files into a different directory, and saved one to a flash drive. I wanted to see if Overdrive would seek-and-destroy any and all copies of the files, or just the copies it knew about in the one designated directory.

After another two weeks, I open the files in the OMC, and they were duly deleted. However, when I browsed to the files in the alternate directory with Winamp, those played just fine. The files on the flash drive played, too (I don't have an iPod so I couldn't test what happens there - but my guess is nothing).

This reaffirms that these are in fact true mp3 files. Overdrive is therefore relying on the delete-what-we-can-reach tactic, and that Overdrive users have agreed to the terms of service and so are obligated to delete anything the OMC can't reach.

So once again, the Unshelved strip is in effect - in the world of publishers and copyright, there is a stark difference between possible and legal.



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Reference Question of the Week – 12/14/08

   December 20th, 2008 Brian Herzog

Unshelved Comic Strip from 9/27/08When I started this blog, I never really expected anyone to read it. Even now, I know a few of my coworkers check in to see what I'm saying about them, but otherwise I'm surprised when someone from the library community notices what I say.

So I was doubly surprised to meet a patron who reads my blog (you know who you are).

Last week, a patron came in to ask me about the new iPod-friendly mp3 files now available to MVLC patrons through Overdrive. He had read my announcement(s) with interest, but was especially interested in this comment from Jeff:

...There is actually four different ways you can hack the drm to get permanent check-outs too.

The first thing I thought of was this Unshelved cartoon, and explained to the patron that although something may be technically possible, that doesn't make it legal. And that library staff cannot show people how to break the law.

He was disappointed, but usually people interested in hacking enjoy challenges, so I think he's going to try to figure out what Jeff was talking about on his own.


ps: For those keeping track of such things, I'm traveling to Ohio for the week of Christmas to see my family. I'll be back in the new year - see you then, and I hope you have a nice holiday.




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Potential, Realized

   December 4th, 2008 Brian Herzog

mp3 announcementThis is what it looks like when I shoot off my mouth too soon.

My last post was about how DRM downloadable audiobooks drastically limit the audiobook audience, and how an alternative for libraries is not readily available yet. Between then and now, my library's consortium's newsletter [pdf] came out, announcing that MP3 audiobooks are now available for download through our Overdrive subscription.

I know the Boston Public Library has been offering MP3 audiobooks through Overdrive for awhile, and I'm happy that we are now, too. The newsletter article [pdf] is worth reading if you're interested, but here are some highlights:

  • These MP3s work with Apple products, so iPod-people can now be like everyone else
  • There's a Mac version of the Overdrive Media Console, which is still necessary for checking the books out
  • The format is plainly indicated in the search result records, along with the type of media the file is compatible with (either MP3 or WMA): Overdrive search results
  • This paragraph also gives me hope:

    We do have 200 titles in the MP3 format. There are a broad variety of genres and subjects available, and we will continue to build the mp3 collection in each month’s OverDrive purchase. There are more "classics" than "hot titles" available in MP3 at this time; however, as the pop title publishers become more comfortable with mp3 access to more titles in the market should evolve.

Now the real test will be to see how our circulation stats change with this addition. Thanks to everyone who made this happen. If you're a library using Overdrive, I encourage you to contact them to see about offering MP3 audiobooks through your interface.

Yay for taking the boot off the car.



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Potential, Interrupted

   December 2nd, 2008 Brian Herzog

Lighting McQueen car with bootWhile with my family for Thanksgiving, my nephew Jake showed me his latest toy car - Lightning McQueen, with a boot.

He loved it, because it was something new from his favorite movie. But the more I thought about this particular toy, the more I wondered about life in general.

Whose idea was it to sell kids a toy car that is designed not to roll? Where's the fun in that? Lots of kids' toys don't do anything, I know, and rely heavily on imagination to make them fun - but this defies even that. It seems like the gratification comes not from playing with the car, but just from owning it. Personally, I think this is a Very Wrong Message to send to kids, but that's not why I'm bringing this up.

It also occurred to me was that this booted toy car is very similar to downloadable media with DRM (because I have a tendency to relate every single aspect of my life back to libraries).

Patrons can get some limited joy out of them, but the built-in handicap of DRM is contrary to how (I think) downloadable media is supposed to work. DRM doesn't render downloadable audiobooks completely useless, but it does derail their potential and makes enjoying them unnecessarily difficult.

I asked Jake why he liked this car, since it didn't roll, but being three years old, he just said he wanted it because it was Lightning McQueen. I tried to get him to play with his brother and me as we zoomed cars that did roll back and forth to each other across the floor, but he just sat on a chair holding his new car and looking at it.

As an uncle, I felt bad that the limitations of Jake's new toy kept him from playing with us. But he didn't seem upset, and I figured he'd eventually realize that looking at a car that doesn't work isn't as much fun as playing with one that does.

As a librarian, I feel like every downloadable media option available to us has a boot on it, and people are afraid to get down on the floor and start rolling cars around. We're timidly exploring "free-wheeling" options, and I am hoping libraries and Jake quickly come to the same realization.

And I know I might talk about the wrongs of DRM too much, but it just bugs me.



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What To Do With MP3-CDs

   September 25th, 2008 Brian Herzog

Tantor Media logoWhen it comes to audio books, my library offers traditional books on tape and CD, digital downloads through Overdrive, and also Playaways. But now we're faced with another format/media combination, mp3 files on a CD, or MP3-CD.

Patrons understand books on tape and CD. And after a little explaining, they caught on to (and are enthusiastic users of) digital downloads via Overdrive. Playaways some people still have trouble with ("so the book is on this thing, and I have to download it to what now?"), but they're catching on slowly, too.

So far, "traditional" media (cassette tapes and CDs) have been separate from the "new" formats (mp3, some DRM version of an mp3, or an mp3 on a Playaway). But these MP3-CDs are kind of a crossover, and I honestly don't know how patrons will react to them.

I think as an introduction to the format, Tantor Media sent us two sample MP3-CDs (The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Call of the Wild). Both disks included an unabridged DRM-free mp3 copy of the book, and also an eBook version as a pdf file.

The Call of the Wild cover, with eBookI like the idea of multiple formats, but it seems slightly counter-productive to have an electronic format that still requires the patron to physically visit the library. I understand that an mp3 version of the book takes up just one CD whereas the regular wav audio format might be two or three or fifteen, and that is a good savings. But mp3s aren't native to CDs - they're native to computers and mobile devices, so putting mp3s on CDs is kind of confusing.

I'm not sure if patrons will understand that in this case, very likely the CD itself is just a transportation medium, and they still need a computer or mp3 player to play the book. I know lots of CD players are mp3-compatible, but not all. I have two CD players - a stereo at home and one in my car - and neither one plays mp3s.

So, our dilemma is whether or not this is a format we should shelve. And if so, how? With the books on CD? Under an entirely new call number? What I would prefer is to circulate these mp3 files electronically, and not keep them on the shelf at all.

I wasn't sure about the legality of this, so I called Tantor Media directly to see what they thought.

The customer service person I got wasn't completely clear on all of this, so there were a few times she put me on hold to ask someone else for an answer. But what it boiled down to was that, as of right now, they are putting no restrictions on how these mp3 files can be used. When I asked her if it was okay for us to link to this mp3 file for download from our catalog record, she said the company would prefer us to circulate them through Overdrive or NetLibrary or some established interface, rather than on our own. But again, she said they currently aren't placing any limits on simultaneous users or any kind of DRM nonsense.

Which, I think, is just fine. I know Overdrive allows us to upload files to circulate through their system. I'm not sure how much we pay per Overdrive title, but most of them are still single-user, DRM-y, and non iPod-compatible. I keep hearing this is changing, but I haven't see the change yet.

The Tantor website lists their titles at a discounted price of $15.99 - $19.99, which isn't too bad. They also have a nice page devoted to how to move mp3 files from CDs to mp3 players, including iPods.

It will take some discussion before my library does anything with this format, but I am very interested to hear if other libraries have been purchasing MP3-CDs, and what you're doing with them.



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Reference Question of the Week – 4/6/08

   April 12th, 2008 Brian Herzog

Windows Sound RecorderOne of our regular patrons has a radio show on a local station. He found some copyright-free songs on YouTube, and wanted to know how he could record them to play on his show.

Huh.

Of course, there are lots of ways to do this, including this how-to video on YouTube:

However, most of the usual ways require more access to the computer than we allow the public to have. Patrons cannot install software or get to Windows Sound Recorder, so he wanted something easier.

An internet search lead us to the website vixy.net, which is exactly what he wanted. Enter the url of the online video you'd like to record, choose the output file type (mp3 is an option), click start, wait, and then download the audio file. Nice.

The system is still in beta, and lists right on their homepage some of the errors you might encounter (after working with it awhile, the patron said he got an error on about one in three attempts). But when it works, it works, and it gave the patron exactly what he was looking for - mp3 files he could save to his flash drive.

But let me leave you with what I told him: just because something is possible doesn't mean it is legal. It is up to you to check to make sure the copyright on published work allows for this type of recording.



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