February 25, 2011; Source: LibraryJournal.com | The publisher HarperCollins, a household name to many a bibliophile, has implemented a loan cap on the number of times a library can allow an e-book to be checked out. The cap is part of the company's new license agreement with their e-book distributor, OverDrive, which supplies the digital stacks of many libraries.

New books licensed from library vendors will be able to circulate only 26 times before the license expires, and the prepackaged Digital Rights Management technology (DRM) makes them impossible and illegal to use.

The restriction has librarians up in arms. In tough financial times and not, artificially foreshortening the period libraries are allowed to use their purchase is bound to make them cross. As Library Journal notes, a limit of 26 e-book loans, at the customary period of two weeks for reading, barely gives the library a year's worth of value from the title.

The sales pitch for justifying this embargo is that the wear and tear of a print publication might force a library to buy a new copy, and yet print publishers who would push the same limitation on their hardcover and paperback titles would be laughed out of the building, perhaps even met with a First Amendment lawsuit. With this kind of argument being offered in defense of the publisher's decision, it's clear that the publishers are lacking a commitment to helping libraries function, especially now that libraries know they can get a big boost by freeing digital content.

If we follow journalist and blogger Cory Doctrow's reaction to the library limitation, we can say that e-books with DRM work pretty well when the technology suits how library patrons want to use e-books. When the DRM hinders regular use patterns, however – as in this case – it fails, and when it does, it fails really badly.—James David Morgan