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On borrowing e-books

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Our county council has recently started offering a fairly limited range of e-books for loan. Their web site has an extensive FAQ which explains how it works. It has three curious features (in what follows I'm going to assume you understand about DRM, if you don't then start by reading the FAQ):

  • They "loan" you the book by giving you a copy DRMed for a fixed number of days. You can define how many days you want the book for. You couldn't originally do this, it used to be 28 days only, but they've tuned the system up now so you can pick anything from 1 to 28 days and I think this is largely an attempt to compensate for the first big problem with the system they have which is that there is no mechanism to "return" a DRMed book. As the FAQ explains this is a basic flaw in the DRM system: any reading software does not handshake with a central server to check if the file's DRM is expired it just looks at the expiry date embedded in the DRM data. This isn't their fault and I don't think there's a lot they can do about it, but it is a slightly surreal. It's also very frustrating when they are only allowing you a total of four books on loan or reservation at any one time.
  • This then leads to a second problem however which is that if you decide to borrow a book for a shorter time, because you don't want it hanging around your neck once you've read it as you can't "return" it early, then if you do fail to finish the book and want to renew it it's very likely that someone else will have reserved the book and hence you won't be able to renew it.
  • The third and final feature is very curious and I confess I don't understand it at all. In their library they have a number of classic works. Charles Dickens Great Expectations for example. Now that's long out of copyright so in the public domain and available in EPUB format. But here's the funny thing: not only do you often have to reserve a copy if you want to read it as they only have a limited number of copies to loan out, but you have to "return" it i.e. it's DRMed like an in copyright work. Why the county library isn't simply putting lots of good, out of copyright, EPUB format books on its shelves on a "here, take it - no, keep it, we don't mind" basis is beyond me.

Tags: books, websites Written 27/04/12

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