scarcity. the library listing for that item is 1. it's on reserve. so you have to wait. they have scarcity. why? because they bought a single copy of it. same for any media. being digital doesn't change licensing on copyrighted materials generally speaking.
yes, it's copyrighted. the STORY is public domain now. you can download a nice copy from gutenberg or mobipocket for free! you don't even have to pay them for storing it for you.
however, that narrated version? it's much like playing a song. it's a performance, recorded, and copyrighted as anything. it's not free either. sells for $15 iirc. the library had to buy a copy. they are not going to buy one and distribute 999 copies for free... not going to happen DRM or no.
it's perfectly fair and legal currently to take a public domain non copyrighted work and wrap it up and sell it. book publishers do it all the time. in this case, it's been done via audio narration, and they've put some restrictions on it - none apparently so good that you can't copy it.
i will agree with you that requiring software to be installed to use it may stink, and that the software MAY even be malicious later, but i can't speak to that. if all the software is doing is restricting the N day policy, and otherwise allowing you to play it, it's not much different than any other music playing software (which may contain malicious code).thetathx1138
's comment below addresses something similar.
#Edited at 2008-02-07 06:30 pm (UTC)