eBook restrictions vex users

A key challenge to using eReaders in education is that some publishers are hesitant to make their textbooks available on a digital platform because of DRM, Deitering said.

“One reason for the pilot project was to figure out ways to manage this content, given the significant limitations Amazon’s DRM policies pose,” she said, adding that OSU does not plan to adopt only a single eReading device, Kindle or otherwise. Still, to accommodate other eReading devices that students might own, or that it might purchase in the future, the library would have to buy content in multiple electronic formats—which could prove costly.

“As our user community increasingly comes to us with their own devices, we believe that our focus will need to shift to how we can provide the content our users want in the format they want, instead of focusing on the devices,” she said. “Not that the devices are irrelevant—we need to have the devices available for our users to access our content—but we expect that we will be considering this in the context of providing content, not providing devices.”

For David Pogue, technology columnist for the New York Times, the DRM issue with eBooks largely mirrors the copy-protection controversy the music industry went through. Until the major recording studios agreed to let consumers download digital music files without DRM technology, users were prohibited from playing songs they’d bought from iTunes on an MP3 player other than Apple’s iPod, for example—and they were limited in terms of how they could use or share these songs.

“The issues involved with copy protection haven’t changed … namely, publishers are terrified of piracy. … As an author myself, I, too, am terrified by the thought of piracy. I can’t stand seeing my books, which are the primary source of my income, posted on all these piracy web sites, available to download free,” said Pogue in a recent post.

But according to the AAP, it’s not the publishers’ fault.

“Publishers are really the middlemen between copyright holders and users,” said Diskey. “For example, say you’re a publisher and have a collection of ninth-grade literature that includes books from hundreds of authors, many with their own copyright ownership and terms. Just because this book goes digital or on an eReader doesn’t mean that copyright holders are going to relinquish these copyrights.”

As publisher McGraw-Hill suggests, the restrictions on sharing, lending, and transferring eBooks to different devices are not a result of publishers’ and authors’ preferences, but rather the device makers’ policies: They have a financial stake in keeping consumers from using rival eReader products.

“We are developing our eBooks to work on a range of devices and platforms. However, [the Kindle, Nook, and iPad], as well as others, have different, proprietary eBook platforms and formats. They are not compatible with each other as of now,” said the company in a statement.

Manufacturers of eReader devices did not responded to requests for comment before press time.

“McGraw-Hill, and other major educational publishers, are now beginning to offer one solution for this eBook issue,” said the company. “Through CourseSmart, an online marketplace for eBooks, a student who buys an eBook and downloads it to one brand of computer and switches to another brand can get a replacement copy of their eBook on the new computer at no extra charge.”

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