Friday, April 8, 2011

Freegal and the new "ownership"

I just got off the phone with Freegal representatives after a lengthy discussion about how I believe that Freegal isn’t a sustainable model for libraries. Even more, I think it’s probably detrimental to libraries in the long run. I understand that serving up downloadable content through Freegal is making our patrons excited – who wouldn’t be?!? Free music (subsidized by the library)!! Here’s some things I’ve been thinking about with Freegal, Overdrive, and copyright to publisher content in the digital world.

1. Should the library subsidize downloadable content?
  • The Freegal model functions as a subsidy program for patron access to information. This, in my mind, is not much different than the library subsidizing Netflix accounts so that patrons would have free access to downloading movies. We might as well just hand out gift cards to iTunes store to our taxpaying residents! That sounds ludicrous, but libraries ARE buying Freegal.
2. Libraries ARE customers.
  • In many of the contracts and negotiations I see between libraries and downloadable vendors (Overdrive anyone?!), the companies/publishers are not treating the library like we are the customer. Instead, the end-user is our patron and we are (to them) part of the supply chain. Thus Overdrive asks the State of Kansas to help them with “product development” costs. The models aren’t intended to support libraries – they are intended to direct-sell product to customers. The library needs to be the customer.
3. We don’t own it.
  • Not owning content (or at least some rights to content) is abdicating our responsibility to the future of information access in libraries. How are we going to contextualize our music content for patrons so that we can deliver it within an information rich environment if we don’t own it? – The answer to that is, we won’t. We’ll buy it again and again in a publisher-customer silo that is information POOR.
4. We should claim the ability to serve our content in contextually rich, customizable ways to our patrons.
  • Rights to content means rights to the potential to deliver that content in ways which that content has increased value because of the context, the expertise, the time, or the space in which it is discovered. Libraries have the ability to mediate that conversation (see R. David Lankes PLEASE!) so that patrons find an information-rich environment to meet their needs.
5. Libraries are remiss in being early adopters of this model
  • If libraries would own our responsibility to fight the battle of fair use, copyright, and ownership rights in the digital world, we could find solutions that transform the digital landscape and our ability to access, use, and share information. This is going to take some organization, some forethought, and some backbone. Stop buying it just because its available!!
6. Doesn’t Freegal drive patrons back to the library?
  • Yes. Why wouldn’t you go get a free hot dog or free download? However, this hook to get patrons comes at a price. And that price is turning over the relationship that we have with our patrons to Sony and Library Ideas. These companies get to dictate the patron experience in a proprietary silo which is divorced from the local library experience.
7. Licensing Freegal is NOT an appropriate substitute for owning content, and we shouldn’t pretend it is.
  • We should have the rights to archive content we own in a sustainable way – isn’t that fair use? Freegal does not allow for the opportunity of fair use in a library context, and not having those options means giving up our rights to function in that information space.

Keep the dialogue going. If I’m off-base, let me know. If I’m not – raise a ruckus.


  1. Well, I can't seem to successfully post my whole reply here, so we'll see if this works. Here's a link to my reply on my blog:

    Benjamin Howard

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