Thursday, April 8, 2010

With the discovery that DRM'd ePub volumes attempt to disallow quoting via copy and paste, one hoped-for advantage of eTextbooks over their physical cousins seems to be in doubt, at least for commercially published eTextBooks that are sure to be 'protected' with Digital Rights Management (DRM) software. On the recently released iPad, text copied from a DRM's ePub volume cannot be copied and pasted directly into a writing application such as Pages.

Of course, innovative folks have already conjured up a workaround.reported here

... that kinda, sorta works. But why should this be necessary? Whose priorities trump all others?

Traditionally, writing a paper and quoting from various sources inevitably involved transcription, just like Monks of old.  There simply wasn’t another way.

With the dawn of the digital era, it became possible to use a digital scanner and Optical Scanning Recognition (OCR) software to produce machine readable text and illustrations that could be re-purposed in academic and other writing.  Better but still not a boon to students without access to expensive gear. They were still mired in ancient scholarly bogs.

Now that we have eBooks and eTexts and eJournals and wonderful, magical devices to read them on, one would think that the scholarly life would ease-up a bit but noooooooo, the commercial interests will have none of that.  The doctrine of presumptive guilt means that scholars will continue to be consigned to ancient monastic transcription rather than the liberation of copy and paste.  That, of course, will come at the cost of less time invested in developing their higher order thinking skills.

Quoting excerpts from a book for the purpose of criticism or for scholarly purposes has long been protected as a fair use in US and international law. DRM places an unnecessary and unwarranted tax upon the exercise of these rights, especially in this digital era where there are better options than tedious and error-prone transcription.

The tragedy here is that DRM doesn't prevent the kind of copyright infringement that threatens a publisher's profitability. Those wholesale pirates will have their way regardless. Only scholarship will suffer.

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