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David Lee King

Teaching Customers to Copy your DVDs and other Nefarious Ideas



I’ve been thinking about this post for awhile now, and was recently reminded of it through a post on the ALA Think Tank Facebook Group (have you joined yet? Good stuff there).

The discussion at ALA Think Tank was about using copy machines to do illegal things, and someone mentioned the sign many libraries place around the copy machine, reminding customers to please not break the law when using the copy machine.

And that reminded me about this post, which is really just a question: Why don’t we teach our customers how to rip our DVDs, download our music CDs to iTunes, or copy our audiobooks to their favorite digital listening devices?

Hang with me a sec here. Parents, think about how your kids listen to music. They might not own a CD player. They listen using iTunes or Google Play (or some similar smartphone app).

How about movies? My family usually streams Netflix movies or rents from iTunes. We DO have a DVD player and use it once in awhile. If the DVD is scratched, it will skip in the player … but sometimes ripping it, dumping it into iTunes, and watching it using my AppleTV fixes that problem.

And what if we’re going on a trip, and want to watch 3-4 movies in the car? We don’t own a portable DVD player … but we DO own an iPad.

Yes, you can guess what we do.

And that relates directly back to your library, because a growing percentage of your customers listen and watch media using mobile devices.

That growing reality makes me wonder if we should teach customers how to use software tools like iTunes or Handbrake? With a disclaimer attached, just like in the days of the heavily used library copy machines – “Here’s how to use the copy machine. Just don’t do anything illegal” (knowing full well what some of those customers were doing).

What do you think? Should we:

  • Teach customers the best way to copy our library content to their favorite digital listening/viewing device (and teach them how to delete it when they’re done, too)?
  • Continue to offer easily downloaded CDs and DVDs, and just assume some customers will figure out how to burn the discs?
  • Something else entirely?

I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Image from slipperybrick.com

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • jessamyn

    I wrote an article about this for Computers in Libraries magazine last month and it’s been on my mind an awful lot.

    On the one hand I feel like I am keeping technology knowledge from people when I don’t tell them that they can rip audiobook CDs or DVDs using Handbrake. On the other hand there’s a divide for me between explanation “Oh you want to get this on your iPad, here’s how…” and advocacy “To heck with copyright, use Calibre and avoid DRM!”

    Our jobs are now no longer divisible from their technological components and part of what we do is help people use technology, particularly the people for whom the library computer is their only computer. That said, it’s a PR nightmare with publishers and maybe vendors if we get too mouthy about this.

    So all of this to say: I am not sure, but it’s a thing I frequently think about.

  • http://www.davidleeking.com davidleeking

    Cool – I’ll have to find your article! And agreed – I’ve been thinking about it too. Sorta a gray area, I think – but one that we should definitely be thinking about.

  • Lissa

    I work frontlines and I this this comment hits it for me “Our jobs are now no longer divisible from their technological components and part of what we do is help people use technology, particularly the people for whom the library computer is their only computer.”
    If the thing customers want to do is not legal, and I’m teaching them how to do it or helping them do it (while still not giving legal medical or tax advice) how am I still a trustworthy information source? Even in a wink-wink “here’s the technology, let me look the other way” kind of situation this is uncomfortable. With other questions I would strive to give accurate answers that position the library as part of the civic and government tax supported organizations. And in a building with uniformed police officers providing security, how do we teach customers which laws we do respect and enforce?

  • http://www.davidleeking.com davidleeking

    Good question Lissa! And I see your point. I was thinking about it more from the “I want to listen to this and have an iPod” viewpoint.

    You said this – “If the thing customers want to do is not legal, and I’m teaching them how to do it or helping them do it” … so with copy machines or scanners, how do we do it? That’s sorta the same, perhaps?

    Besides the obvious thing that the library owns the copy machines and the customer owns the iPad.

  • jessamyn

    Yeah I think it’s super tricky, I didn’t mean to imply that I thought that it was simple. But at some level you’ve got uniformed police and I think if you said to them “That patron is ripping a CD to their laptop” they’d say “OK, so?” If people ask us if a thing is technologically possible, I think we don’t lie to them, we tell them that it’s possible but also in a legal/ethical grey area and give them some background about why that is. I have patrons all the time who sign up for stuff without reading the Terms of Use and who read books in my library that tell them to do things that are illegal, so I think my question is why we draw a box around technology and put ourselves as the arbiter of the laws that surround it?

    I’m really not trying to be edgy about this, but in most cases we let the patron have the information and do what they want to with it. While most libraries, especially smaller libraries, don’t have a lot of books about quasi-legal stuff, many larger libraries do. So when someone says “Can I put this movie on my iPad?” my answer is often something like “There is a way to technically do it, but it’s not strictly legal and you need to determine how you feel about that” and go from there.

  • Not a Geek Squad Librarian

    Another question is whether a library copy is a ‘legitimately’ owned copy or not. For the purposes of making a duplication and a derivative (format shifting) work it may not be. I don’t know of any copyright cases involving materials from libraries so its hard to tell what a judge would decide.

    Copying machines (like computers) should always be unsupervised (for liability reasons) but I think it should be OK to provide ripping software on them for the same reason we provide photocopying machines.

    Does anyone have Calibre + anti-DRM plugin installed on their patrons computers? Probably not. Again, I would love to see a test case.

    And we should never teach customers how to use Apple products…

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  • libraryhag

    We cannot participate in any illegal activities. Sometimes I have to ask people to stop copying CD’s or leave. What they do at home is not my concern. What I can do is provide digital resources. I can provide audiobooks, movies, and music. I can even give them digital books to read. Copiers were different. All copying was not illegal. But copying media that you as an individual did not purchase is always illegal unless specifically allowed by the company or studio. At least that is my understanding.

  • http://www.davidleeking.com davidleeking

    Just thinking out loud here. In a public library, the customer has already paid with his/her tax dollars. Making copies for personal use is legal (for music anyway) in general, if it’s for non-commercial purposes. So… it possibly falls under fair use.

  • http://www.veganintheville.blogspot.com glassesgirl79

    The best thing librarians can do is show patrons how to use our resources in a responsible way. That being said, I’d rather teach someone how to copy something properly than have them try it themselves with no guidance and ruin our materials. At the end of the day,what people do with our materials once they’re at home is up to them. I view myself as an info provider, not the info police.

  • http://www.chinavasion.com/china/wholesale/Cheap_Mobile_Phones/ Liza Jenifer

    I think its super unpredictable, I didn’t intend to suggest that I imagined that it was straightforward. At the same time at some level you’ve got uniformed police and I think in the event that you said to them “That benefactor is tearing a CD to their portable computer” they’d say “alright, so?” If individuals inquire as to whether a thing is innovatively conceivable, I think we don’t mislead them, we let them know that its conceivable additionally in a lawful/moral hazy area and provide for them some foundation concerning why that is. I have supporters all the time who sign up for stuff without perusing the Terms of Use and who read books in my library that let them know to do things that are unlawful, so I think my inquiry is the reason we draw a case around innovation and put ourselves as the authority of the laws that encompass it? I’m truly not attempting to be memorable about this, yet by and large we let the benefactor have the data and would what they like to with it. While most libraries, particularly more diminutive libraries, don’t have a ton of books about semi legitimate stuff, numerous bigger libraries do… Any way i would like to say Thanks for sharing this nice article.
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  • kjack

    I don’t think that the companies that produce the CDs and DVDs will understand that reasoning. Of course, the ultimate decision of whether the rights of the copyright holder have been infringed upon usually leads to court, but I don’t think that having a personal copy of a CD that the library owns at home would be considered fair use (especially if it is 100s of patrons that have a copy, since the production company and artist would have lost out on that much money).