Digital Culture Library Issues

MP3’s, audiobooks, and libraries

So I got an email yesterday from Shel, asking me my thoughts on ripping audiobooks from a library:

..I was wondering the other day though – I checked out a Jimmy Buffet audio CD from the library and ripped it to listen to my iPod. I then, honestly, felt guilty. Like I was somehow cheating the library or something – or more accurately, using the library inappropriately when the library had always been my friend. Have the Powers That Be just not thought about all the media sitting on library shelves, there for the taking/ripping/copying? Have libraries somehow slipped through the cracks? Just curious on your take on the situation.

She also pointed towards a BoingBoing post, originally from Neil Gaiman’s blog where a reader asks for Neil’s take on the copying of audiobooks from a library to an iPod or other MP3 player. His response:

What a wonderful ethical question. I feel almost rabbinical pondering it. No, I don’t believe you’ve broken any law. If you’d checked out the MP3 CD from your library you’d be expected to put it onto your iPod, after all. There’s a weird sort of ethical fogginess, in that I suspect that part of the idea of libraries is that when you’re done with something you return it, and of course once you have your MP3 on your computer and iPod you can keep it forever. But I think this is just one of those places where changes in technology move faster than the rules.

If you’re listening to it, and you’ve got an iPod or suchlike MP3 player, you’re almost definitely going to listen to it on your iPod. That’s how things are, and it’s a good thing (it’s why I got Harper Collins to release American Gods and Anansi Boys on MP3 CD, after all).

Probably wisest not to pull it off your iPod and give it to other people, though. Let them at least take it out of the library themselves.

I’m so happy to see an author who at least understands the perception of his readers…of course we’ll copy the files to our portable devices. My take on it? Well…it’s not to hard to figure out that I’m a copyright liberal. I feel like the consolidation of the media companies and their lobbying power in Congress has created a copyright situation that is completely out of control. And I do think that copying audiobooks that you have checked out of a library to a portable media device (MP3 player, mini disc, etc) counts as fair use. It’s format shifting. I can’t currently get a lot of audiobooks in a purely digital format (ie..downloadable), and I certainly can’t check them out of a library that way! There have been some experiments with digital audio books in libraries, but I don’t think they are widespread, nor do I think they are going to crop up across the country.

By griffey

Jason Griffey is the Director of Strategic Initiatives at NISO, where he works to identify new areas of the information ecosystem where standards expertise is useful and needed. Prior to joining NISO in 2019, Jason ran his own technology consulting company for libraries, has been both an Affiliate at metaLAB and a Fellow and Affiliate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, and was an academic librarian in roles ranging from reference and instruction to Head of IT at the University of TN at Chattanooga.

Jason has written extensively on technology and libraries, including multiple books and a series of full-periodical issues on technology topics, most recently AI & Machine Learning in Libraries and Library Spaces and Smart Buildings: Technology, Metrics, and Iterative Design from 2018. His newest book, co-authored with Jeffery Pomerantz, will be published by MIT Press in 2024.

He has spoken internationally on topics such as artificial intelligence & machine learning, the future of technology and libraries, decentralization and the Blockchain, privacy, copyright, and intellectual property. A full list of his publications and presentations can be found on his CV.
He is one of eight winners of the Knight Foundation News Challenge for Libraries for the Measure the Future project (, an open hardware project designed to provide actionable use metrics for library spaces. He is also the creator and director of The LibraryBox Project (, an open source portable digital file distribution system.

Jason can be stalked obsessively online, and spends his free time with his daughter Eliza, reading, obsessing over gadgets, and preparing for the inevitable zombie uprising.

3 replies on “MP3’s, audiobooks, and libraries”

I listen to audiobooks on my ipod a fair bit–keeps me away from the road rage during my commute.

I pay for my books, but I’d never really considered being able to rent them from the library. I’m not sure about the true legality of it, but I think it’s reasonable. Especially if it means you get the cds back to the library sooner, so that someone else can enjoy them.

I also listen to audio books, from the library, on my iPod. I borrow them, load them on my computer via iTunes, and store them until I am ready to listen. I have 30 to 40 books on my computer at all time. I download between 9 and 12 books at a time on the iPod. After I finish them, I delete them off my computer.

I have listened to over 200 books in the past year. I take out up to 22 books at a time at the library. It takes me a few days to load them on the computer. I return the books and get more. I am loading some books now as I type this.

The librarian thinks it is illegal. I think because I am borrowing them and not copying them, I am ok. How do I find out the law? I live in Connecticut if that makes a difference.

Me too. Been reserving audio books online at my library, receive an email when they’re ready to pick up, check myself out. Usually don’t even make a special trip to the library, just stop by while going somewhere else. Library limits to 10 books at a time, I spend a day or two ripping them, then drop them in the drop chute when driving home from work at 0700 in the morining. Library gets the books back faster than ever. I listen while working graveyard shift 8 hrs a night every workday. But for this, I’d be crazyier than I am. I tried downloading from the library, with iPod it’s a much greater pain than the way I’m doing it. For me anyway. Prior to this I listened to the CD books on a Sony player, it crapped out after a couple years and I decided the iPod was easier to deal with. Wonder if I’ll live long enough to see another media storage change? Started with 8″ SSSD floppies. JMHO

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