Minneapolis Public Library Offers Free Audio Books (Unless You Use a Mac)

[Update: Doc Searls speaks to the issue in Yo, Libraries: say No to DRM and also links to this Washington Post article from April ’05. Turns out that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has contributed to the Online Computer Library Center, the parent group of NetLibrary.

Should our public libraries “say No” to rights-managed audio that leaves out a significant portion of their patrons? Seems the best course to me if you take open access for the Public seriously.

Apple is not without fault here. They have their own DRM system that won’t play on any device except the iPod. As Mr. Searls says, both Apple and Microsoft have silos. If you’re in one silo, you can’t be in the other.]

The Minneapolis (Minnesota US) Public Library now has free audio books for supporters of Microsoft. From the NetLibrary Audiobook FAQ:

Q: Can I download and play an audiobook on a Mac?
A: NetLibrary audiobooks cannot be played on Macs because the latest version of Window Media Player available for Macs (version 9) is based on Windows Media Rights Manager version 1.3. NetLibrary uses version 2.x licenses for eAudiobooks in order to maintain a high level of security. Because the latest version of Windows Media Player for Macs does not support 2.x licenses, NetLibrary audiobooks cannot be played on Macs at this point in time.

This is really hard to believe in the twenty-first century. I know there are still sites out there that don’t support Macs but the last place I’d expect to see this is at my local library. Aren’t libraries about free and open access?

This group that provides the service, NetLibrary, could make the books compatible with Macs by supporting Microsoft’s version 1 DRM (digital rights management) license. But they don’t so Mac users become second-class citizens at the Minneapolis Public Library.

The Library’s audiobook entry page never mentions this. System requirements state I need Windows Media Player 9 or above and the Mac version is at 9. It does say I can’t play it on my iPod but I assume that I can still play it on my laptop sporting that Media Player 9. Wrong. I finally stumbled on a FAQ (quoted above). Come on, Library, at least post this information up front! (The link to supported devices at the Netlibrary site doesn’t mention the lack of Mac support either.)

To be fair, I did some searching for an alternative service that supports Macs and came up empty. It looks like Bill and the gang at Microsoft have succeeded in closing the door on the Mac users. Microsoft is “committed” to upgrading their Windows Media Player for the Mac and I hope that means they will make it compatible with their current DRM scheme.

I also hope my library will lobby Netlibrary to produce the books with support for the version 1 licenses so Mac users can benefit from the service.

(For a reasoned view of what’s wrong with DRM in general, check out Cory Doctorow’s talk at Microsoft Research.)

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