D-Lib Magazine
February 1999

Volume 5 Number 2

ISSN 1082-9873

From the Publisher

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Open Access, Subsequent Use, and MP3

Some of the most intransigent issues in digital libraries are about money. Creating online collections and maintaining them to a high standard is not free. Somebody has to pay, but the financial models of the past do not transfer neatly to electronic publication.

Open access was the starting point for the World Wide Web. To many people's surprise, various business models based on open access have proved successful and a huge variety of excellent collections are now freely available online. Usually, the provider pays the costs of creating and managing the information. A few open access sites have alternative forms of revenue, such as the advertisements. Open access, with no charges to the user, works well for an individual or organization that wishes maximum exposure for its information. Examples include government information, bulletin boards, and any form of marketing. D-Lib Magazine is an example; we have a grant from DARPA.

Other areas of digital libraries and electronic publishing are not so simple. A well-known example is the tension between academic researchers -- who benefit from maximum exposure of their work -- and journal publishers who generate revenue from sales and subscriptions. In this instance, a reasonable compromise has been reached, based around institutional subscriptions to sets of publications, but the tension is still strong.

Institutional subscriptions help publishers avoid one of their greatest concerns: further dissemination of digital materials beyond the first user -- frequently called subsequent use. When everybody at an institution is a licensed user, publishers can be relaxed about local re-distribution of materials after they are received from the publisher. In other contexts, the ease of duplication of digital information is a constant worry.

This fear came to the fore in the early days of personal computer software. Various methods of copy protection were used to prevent software being copied from diskettes. The techniques were uniformly unsuccessful, because they made the products less convenient for the people who had paid money to buy the programs. Copy protection is now largely history. Microsoft, for instance, is highly profitable, yet most of its products are supplied with no technical barriers that prevent duplication. Software publishers achieve this success by a combination of carrots and sticks. The carrots include low-cost upgrades and services that are provided only to registered users; the sticks include the possibility of legal action.

Currently, the publishers of recorded music are facing the same type of challenge. Music in the MP3 format (MPEG audio level 3) is being widely distributed over the Internet. Programs to download and play the music are available from many sources. Music publishers see the potential of selling music over the Internet, but subsequent use is a major worry. They fear that widespread, unlicensed use will undermine their revenues. Some of their initial reactions mimic the software publishers of fifteen years ago, including the development of formats that emphasize copy protection over the convenience of their customers. It is easy to point out the flaws in these reactions; it is less easy to suggest better. Hopefully, somebody will find a combination of sticks and carrots that allows the creators and publishers of recorded music to receive reasonable rewards for their work. Perhaps digital library research can help?

William Y. Arms
Publisher, D-Lib Magazine

Copyright (c) 1999 Corporation for National Research Initiatives

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DOI: 10.1045/february99-editorial