Legal Issues Media MPOW Music Technology

iTunes and Libraries question

In thinking about Michael Sauers recent brilliant post on cataloging Creative Commons works, I’m considering setting up an iTunes instance on our Student network in MPOW. On that system, we could load…well, that’s the crux of this post. Long time readers of this blog know my stance on copyright, and that I keep up with the latest issues, especially vis a vis digital copyright. I could, at the very least, load CC licensed music on this system. But what else?

So, I ask you, blogosphere: What can I legally load on that iTunes instance? It would be openly shared, streamable to anyone connected to our student network…but, as anyone who has used iTunes knows, not downloadable. Can I load the majority of the library music collection on that machine? Why not? If it is legal for me as a private citizen to rip my purchased music to digital form (yes, I realize that not everyone thinks this is legal, but it is the current position held by most copyright thinkers), then why would it not be legal for “me” as a library? Once ripped, can it possibly be illegal for me to use functionality that iTunes has built into it?

Is anyone out there doing this? It would mean that every student could stream any of our music collection from any computer with iTunes as long as they were connected to our network…which would, of course, be any computer in the library (or their own computer).

Once more, oh blogosphere, I ask you: what’s wrong with this idea?

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.

4 replies on “iTunes and Libraries question”

I had this conversation with the head of tech services, our copyright guru, a couple of months ago. It was more geared to what we could do with our reserves and not part of our collection.

My ethical stance on copyright is a bit liberal as I grew up on Napster. But, I believe that if the work is the library’s and it stays in the library, like our reserves would, then it should be allowed.

Obviously this negates some of the restrictions on our reserves: like only allowing one student to view the work for two hours at a time (I made that up but we have rules like that).

I see the power in using iTunes for much more than just music – think movie collections – think student created projects – think recently recorded radio shows from the campus radio station. It has a lot of potential if you’re willing to bend some of these nasty copyright rules.

As you said: anyone who has used iTunes knows, not downloadable. Not the complete truth, I’m sorry to say. Do a search on Lifehack for itunes stuff and you’re bound to find the right swiss army knife to get to the collection.

BUT – I’m still just as curious about this as you are.

Kyle: oh, there are a billion ways around the “not downloadable” part of iTunes. But as I see it, I’m only responsible for using a tool as it was meant to be used. If others are doing naughty things with it, it isn’t my problem…esp. if I don’t know it, or can’t tell it’s happening.

I see absolutely zero wrong with it, Jason, and I’ve wondered about doing the same thing here. Then again, I don’t work in reserves and am probably ignorant of some of the legal issues. Would you post updates if anything comes of it?

I *believe* this is illegal, but IANAL. What you can do as a private citizen for yourself is different from what you can do as an institution for multiple users. Note that I don’t agree with this, am just noting that I believe it to be the case.

That said, check out I know the DOK Library in Delft, Holland, does this, too, in a really unique and fantastic way (see and, but obviously American copyright law doesn’t apply to them.

On the flip side, and admittedly not nearly as popular as some of what you’d load, is I’ll second the request to let us know if you pursue this.

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