The Digital Object: The future of the Digital Library

My post for this week will be split into two parts: Digital Rights Management (DRM) and its relationship to the future of the book, and a review on the book Ready Player One. The first part of the post talks about the closed spaces facilitated by DRM and the second is a fictional world that looks at access to knowledge and information from an open source point of view.

Digital Rights Management is a system that restricts the access of proprietary hardware and copyrighted works. We’ve all seen them in e-readers, iTunes, etc. What’s interesting about DRM is that it locks an item into a system and the users has little to no control over the contents. For example, early e-readers allowed the user to highlight text but they could not copy it or provide annotations. This had implications on the practice of commonplacing. Later ebooks allowed the addition of comments, but somehow I feel that is lacking when compared to the annotations or marginalia in a physical book. That is not to say that there are no restrictions on a physical object but there are certain liberties afforded by the medium. I can lend, re-sell, or donate my collection as I see fit. What about digital books and music?

A few years ago, an article surfaced about the actor Bruce Willis and his attempt to ensure that his iTunes library could be left to his children in his will. Whether the story is true or not is not the point, but the principle of it brings up interesting questions: What happens to a digital collection once the owner has passed on? What is the future of libraries and archives in an increasingly digital world? With DRM you do not own the items you purchase but are in essence leasing it from an organization. This could have serious implications for libraries and archives that rely on donations. Could you imagine where we would be without either of these institutions and the insight into figures like Northrop Frye or Marshall McLuhan from donated collections of books? In addition, with a digital object the same type of markup is not left behind. We have version controls on some objects, but with the ease of editing that could end up being a momentous task to filter through them all to study a books history or the owners thoughts. Users need to have more control over digital objects and rules/laws need to be changed to accommodate those rights.

I recently finished reading Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. As a videogame geek I found the references to old videogames, TV series, and music, nostalgic. The author does an amazing job creating the dystopian future Earth. What I liked most about the book was the idea of open access to knowledge that the virtual world of OASIS offered. At no point in the book did the main protagonist worry about copyright or intellectual property laws but he could enjoy the products of the past freely. This type of open source world is something that is intriguing for the future of the book, and knowledge in general.

On a side note: Ready Player One is being made into a movie. I’m excited to see what they do with it.

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