Of E-books, Licences, DRM and Downloads

Proquest’s Ebook Central platform offers a large number of books for our community, but they’re not the easiest to use. Here’s a brief summary of how you can download e-books from this platform, and how to mitigate some of the most painful limitations of single-user (non-downloadable) titles.

Two major EBC Limitations, and a workaround

Thousands of e-books are a part of our collection. They can be found using the Explore catalogue and the installation of a VPN will allow you to access them away from the Institute. When you click on them, though, you will sometimes get a specific indication such as “IHEID Single user” or “IHEID 3-user”. In short, this indicates how many users can consult an e-book at any given time on platforms which limit such access.

Single user: a very limited licence

The default licence on Ebook Central (EBC) only allows a single user using a specific book at any time. Allowing more users is not always possible, and when it is, it quickly becomes costly. We try to mitigate this by monitoring turnaways and expanding the licence whenever they happen. This should reduce the risk of access denial for resources in high demand, and hopefully you will never find yourself in that situation.

The other problem of single user licences is that an e-book only becomes available for download with higher licences. This is one of the reasons why we try to purchase e-books from suppliers who offer unlimited access rather than licence-based schemes, but this isn’t always possible.

Printing/download limits

In many cases, EBC only allows printing or downloading pages or chapters for up to 30% of any given book at a time. The situation is even worse for some publishers such as Princeton University Press, who impose strict limitations, which can go as low as 5% (less than a chapter’s worth).

We can not do much about this for books that aren’t available on other platforms. However, since this quota is actually set by a cookie rather than per user account, you can always clear your cookies or use different computers to download or print a larger number of pages. It is actually one situation where your browser’s private browsing option is a great workaround.

So you want to download a full title…

Before we get to it – are you sure you actually need to download it? Try the online reader first!

The e-book files you can download from the platform have “chronodegradable” DRMs (digital rights management tools, or digital locks) that deactivate your book after a week. That can be frustrating, and there is another option: the EBC e-reading platform allows you to read books online without registering or having to go through hoops.

If you choose to register on EBC, you can also create a personal collection, add notes to the books you’re using, highlight text, and use other useful tools. You might come to realize that this is in some ways more efficient than downloading them.

Step 1 – Is downloading possible? If so, register/login on Proquest EBC

Books can only be fully downloaded if we own a multi-user licence (3-user, non-linear, or unlimited). If the full download button is greyed out or not visible, it means that such a licence isn’t available (sometimes for pricing reasons, and sometimes simply because the publisher doesn’t offer one).


If a full download is possible, you will need to register (or login) on the platform. You may use any e-mail and name: access requires a local IP or VPN connection, not necessarily a Graduate Institute address. You can then connect to the platform and use the full download button.

Step 2 – Register an Adobe account and install Adobe Digital Editions

The e-book you download will be associated with your personal Adobe account and nobody will be able to read the file without using your account identification. This is an annoying anti-piracy measure.

Adobe Digital Editions must be installed on your computer (with your associated Adobe account) to allow you to open the file. Again, this is due to the copy-protection software (DRM) included in the file. If you are using a tablet or phone, the Bluefire Reader allows you to open that DRM-ed file.

Step 3 – Download and open the .acsm file

This is the last step. After opening that file with one of the readers mentioned previously, your software will download the copy-protected PDF, which you can read on your machine of choice.

You are now done, and hopefully everything went fine. Just remember that your PDF will only be readable for a limited time. If you wish to keep working on it after a week, you will need to re-download it.

But… Why?


You get the idea: DRMs are the reason why we don’t recommend downloading books from Ebook Central. We generally try to purchase access to e-books from platforms that are easier to use, don’t require registrations or installation of additional software, and provide books you can keep using without a time limit.

In many cases, though, Proquest Ebook Central is our only option. Between offering a complicated e-book experience or not offering one at all, we chose the former. We hope you will agree.

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