So, after posting information to the libs-or listserv (a mailing list for Oregon libraries) on Bluefire Reader (an iOS e-reader app which allows viewing of the DRM-protected eBooks provided by our state library eBook vendor Overdrive), Richard Stallman(!) apparently took offense. Now, I’m actually pretty flattered that a post I wrote attracted his attention.
I can’t say I disagree, in principle, with many of the arguments he made (I’m no fan of DRM and, much as I like Apple products, the rather closed iOS ecosystem is problematic), but I think he entirely misunderstands the role of library professionals, as well as ignoring the fact that many people (myself included) like various hardware platforms, and are willing to tolerate DRM up to a point.
See below for his post, followed by my response.
From: Richard Stallman
Date: Fri, Nov 19, 2010 at 4:54 PM
Subject: Could you forward this to the list?
To: don warner saklad
Would you be so kind as to forward this response to the list
libs-or-owner at listsmart.osl.state.or.us? It won’t accept
mail from me.
A recent message announced that it is possible to read
Overdrive ebooks with digital handcuffs
on Apple’s recent user-restricting products.
This is done by installing a program which is available gratis
but clearly is not free (freedom-respecting) software.
When something is possible, the next question is whether
it’s good or bad. There are three reasons why this is not good.
* It is bad to use the iMoan or the iBad, because they subjugate
computer users as never before in a general purpose computer. Apple
has the gall to impose its control even over what programs users can
* The program recommended for this is a proprietary program:
it doesn’t respect users’ freedom. The users don’t control it;
it controls them. (See fsf.org.)
* DRM, in Overdrive for example, is an attack on readers’ freedom. It
is something we should reject and resist, not facilitate. For more
info about DRM, see DefectiveByDesign.org.
There are some things that can be done but shouldn’t be,
and this is one of them.
President, Free Software Foundation
51 Franklin St
Boston MA 02110
Since this was (I assume) in response to some information I recently provided on a product called Bluefire Reader, I wanted to take a moment to respond.
You’ll get no argument from me that DRM is a bad deal almost any way you look at it. I fervently hope that someday, all the electronic content that I (and our patrons) want to consume is unencumbered by draconian restrictions and can be utilized on any and all devices a patron may choose to utilize. I support the work of the professional associations, non-profit groups, and activists who are working towards these goals, and I do my best to educate patrons about these issues whenever I have an opportunity to do so.
That said, as a public librarian, I have a responsibility to provide the best possible service I can to my patrons, and to be a responsible steward of taxpayer funds. Our patrons’ tax money has gone to purchase access to Overdrive’s DRM-laden content. Therefore, I am duty-bound to do everything I can to facilitate and simplify patrons’ access to that content. Furthermore, I must respect patrons’ choice of hardware (whether it’s a Kindle, Nook, iPad, or something else), and do whatever I can to assist them in enjoying the content they have paid for on the devices they have chosen to buy. To do anything less would be, in my opinion, an egregious dereliction of duty; it is my job to facilitate patron access to information resources, not to make moral judgments about patrons’ choice of hardware.
Your email seems to imply that both of these goals (content freedom and patron service) are mutually exclusive; I respectfully disagree. As a profession, we can continue to work to mitigate or eliminate content restriction, while we at the same time do everything in our power to help our patrons access information using the current software/hardware resources available (imperfect though they may be).
West Linn Public Library