Academics should ramp up downloads of valuable resources, to make them available privately, offline. Relying on them being available on the internet is changing from precarious to foolish. Here is why.
In previous posts I outlined how battles over philosophies of copyright and freedom of knowledge are played out between on the one side activists and hobbyists and on the other side corporations. These hobbyists allow you to ask “does anybody have a PDF …” and get a positive response back, free of charge – the corporations are, crudely put, out to be the sole distributors of content. At this moment, corporations are putting in place mechanisms that can make this battle become much more favorable to them, and this could have a big impact on the way you like to work.
Skipping over technical details, this could mean, in the words of one internet watchdog:
A Web where you cannot cut and paste text; where your browser can’t “Save As…” an image; where the “allowed” uses of saved files are monitored beyond the browser…
This is unacceptable for academics. All of us have integrated the internet in our workflow, for discussions on forums, downloading and uploading PDFs of books and articles, gathering videos, audio files, and images, and the list goes on. As academics, it is our very craft to take products of others (whether copyright protected or not) and “go to town on them,” within the ethical and legal limits of fair use. We constantly cite, analyze, and critique other works, and to do so we need unmediated access to it.
The technology that is at the cusp of being globally accepted is portrayed to be for video – think Netflix or Hulu being able to use this technology to stream movies and tv shows to customers without those customers being able to do anything but watch it. The director of the organization overseeing the acceptance of this, however, alludes to the implementation to e-books. As we have seen the academic publishers ride the coattails of the entertainment industry, we may reasonably expect that publishers will eventually seek to wield this restrictive technology in their products. Think Proquest’s vomit-inducing E-Book Central, but worse, and then across the board.
All of this will take a while, and let us hope the future is not as grim as I portray it here, but for now academics do well to secure their own resources – to become self-sufficient. Now has never been a better time to ask if “anybody has a PDF of…”.
More information about this implementation of DRM, Digital Rights Management:
A somewhat entertaining overview of DRM:
A history of DRM, related to software:
A rather dull overview of DRM related to publishing: