University of Illinois
While the copyright and digital rights management (DRM) issues regarding the use of peer-to-peer networks to exchange music files has been well documented in the Napster cases, their use as a vehicle for exchanging ebooks or other digital text files has begun to attract the attention of publishers and libraries. The Napster cases were important to authors and publishers because the same kind of technologies used for trading music online are already beginning to be applied to electronic books, text and pre-print archives.
What? Is.com defines peer-to-peer (often referred to as P2P) as a type of transient Internet network that allows a group of computer users with the same networking program to connect with each other and directly access files from one another's hard drives. Napster and Gnutella are examples of this kind of peer-to-peer programs.
The user must first download and execute a peer-to-peer networking program. (Gnutellanet is currently one of the most popular of these decentralized P2P programs because it allows users to exchange all types of files.) After launching the program, the user enters the IP address of another computer belonging to the network. Once the computer finds another network member on-line, it will connect to that user's connection (who has gotten their IP address from another user's connection and so on). Users can choose how many member connections to seek at one time and determine which files they wish to share or password protect. Corporations are looking at the advantages of using P2P as a way for employees to share files without the expense involved in maintaining a centralized server and as a way for businesses to exchange information with each other directly.
The initial, high profile use of these networks was for the transfer and exchange of music files. The resulting use was, while dramatic, in violation of a number of copyright laws. Since the networks care little for the types of files being traded, using them to transfer eBooks or other text files would be relatively simple. This has not escaped the attention of publishers. As digital content and e-publishing become commonplace, duplicating such content becomes easier and more practical. This raises a host of copyright and digital rights management issues. One of these issues of concern to publishers relates to a technological byproduct of transferring digital files. Even with the best of intentions says Allen Adler, vice-president for legal and government affairs of the Association of American Publishers in a recent Time magazine article, digital transmission creates temporary copies that the library will retain while the user has the content. One solution, says Adler, would be a simultaneous transmission and deletion system where the library deletes its copy while the borrower has it, and the borrower deletes it upon returning it to the library. netLibrary, prior to its demise last year, pioneered work on such technologies and digital rights management with ebooks. Its efforts earned netLibrary a seat with NISO. Hopefully, this work will continue. OCLC has purchased the eBook and MetaText eTextbook divisions of netLibrary.
How then does the development of peer-to-peer networking impact technical services? Roy Tennant, in a recent Library Journal column, points out that, first of all, as individuals begin using Gnutella to serve copies of articles, papers, and even books, users may increasingly find it easier to bypass the library entirely to locate information on their own. As we know, they will likely be missing much that we could provide, even within the Gnutella universe given its nearly brain-dead method of searching (by file name, no metadata is associated with the files). Tennant quotes Karen Coyle of the California Digital Library as saying, "The folks who developed Gnutella are very sophisticated in their knowledge of networking, but they don't know squat about information retrieval. They need us, even if they don't know it."
While much attention is focused on copyright and DRM issues, as it should be, there is also a growing concern over the provenance of the files being exchanged. How can a Gnutella user be certain the ebook transcription they are acquiring over their peer-to-peer network is faithful to it source?
Tennant also points out the likelihood of another growing parallel universe of information developing on these peer-to-peer networks that may not (at least initially) be available through web search engines. To add another wrinkle, individual users join and leave the Gnutella network at will, which suggests a randomly pulsing (growing and shrinking) universe of information. What is there now may not be there in a few minutes, and vice versa. These issues are not new to those of us coping with web-based resources, especially, of late, government documents.
Proposals have already been put forth to use peer-to-peer networking technologies in libraries on a more practical level. Daniel Chudnov of The Yale University School of Medicine imagines providing researchers with a new bibliographic management tool that combines file storage with a Napster-like communications protocol. He dubbed the new tool "docster". Instead of just citations, docster also stores the files themselves and retains a connection between the citation metadata and each corresponding file. Somewhere in the ether, Chudnov envisions, would exist a docster server to which those researchers connect. They're reading one of their articles, and they find a new reference they want to pull up. What to do? Just query docster for it. Docster will figure out who else among those connected has a copy of that article and, if it's found, requests and saves a copy for our friendly researcher.
Of course, Chudnov asserts, we cannot do this. Libraries depend too much on copyright to attack the system so directly. But what if, he proposes, we focused instead on altering the P2P model enough to make it explicitly copyright-compliant? As repositories of electronic texts, such as those based on the Open Archives Initiative model, the need to connect and exchange data between them grows as well. As Technical Services librarians, we will all have a role in acquiring and providing accurate and robust access to these materials.
For More Information:
Docster: The Future of Document Delivery / by Daniel Chudnov
"Peer-to-Peer Networks: Promise & Peril" / Roy Tennant
Library Journal, v. 125, no. 15 (p. 28-30)
Electronic Rights Grab the Spotlight: Publishers Ponder Napster & Random House Cases / by Danny O. Snow
Are Libraries the Next Napster / by Katherine Bonamici