Check It Out

I get a lot of audiobooks on CD from the Clark County Library, and I prefer to return them almost right away. Once you rip an audiobook to your iPod, of course, you no longer need the original CDs to listen to the book—but if you keep the files after you return the discs (even for a little while), you violate federal copyright law.

Admittedly, this is an infraction I doubt anyone would prosecute; it’s like going 2 miles an hour over the speed limit. But the fact that it’s illegal still makes me nervous. In theory, each copyright violation could result in liability between $750 and $30,000 (though if you could prove you did it accidentally, a court could lower that to $200 each).

I don’t like tempting fate, and I love my library, so I was excited when the library introduced digital audiobooks, which use Digital Rights Management (DRM) to automatically time out when their checkout period is over, essentially returning themselves. (“Return” is strictly metaphorical here, since there’s nothing to actually return; the files just stop working.) Unfortunately, the selection of digital audiobooks is limited, and they were initially only available in Windows Media Audio format, which wouldn’t play on iPods. (WMA library audiobooks now will play on iPods—but you need a PC to load them, so Mac users like me are still out of luck.)

Later, the library started offering some digital audiobooks in MP3 format, which play on nearly any device. Unfortunately, the selection is even more limited, and because MP3 files don’t use DRM, they don’t automatically stop working on the due date.

Recently the library added Kindle e-books. These also automatically time out, and in theory could provide some audio options, since recent Kindles have built-in audio readers. But Amazon has disabled this feature for many books (also because of copyright issues), and the Kindle readers for PC, Mac and iPods have no audio readers at all.

Still, it’s great to see the Clark County Library’s digital options expanding. I’m looking forward to the day when the library has a large selection of iPod-compatible digital audio titles. Until then, I’ll keep checking out my audiobooks on CD—and making sure not to return them too soon.