Thursday, 13 May 2010

DRM = Dont Read Me

DRM is a four-letter word.

At least, it is to most e-bookworms. What jolly japes we have playing around with the initials. My favourite is my own ... DON’T READ ME, because I know so many hundreds of ebook reading folks who will never buy a DRM book on principle. But have a go at inventing your own.

Tony, Hugh, Sam and I at BeWrite Books believe Digital Rights Management (the official term) is an insult to honest readers everywhere.

Nobody should buy a book that’s so heavily padlocked (supposedly) against piracy that their private property rights are blatantly violated: that they can’t read their legally purchased book where they want to and on any reading platform they own, that they can’t lend it to a friend, that they can’t move it from one virtual book shelf to another. An ebook should be as free as a paperback or hardback treebook. Once it's bought, give it wings.

The influential ZNet’s executive editor, David Berling, came up with an alternative term to describe Draconian Digital Rights Management. He suggested: Content Restriction, Annulment and Protections. And you know what those initials spell out, folks. Nice one, David.

DRM has been around for a long, long time (to challenge the rights of manufacturers of player pianos or pianola rolls and kids who taped a favourite pop song from the radio). It’s supposed to curtail the nefarious activities of digital pirates.

Of course, it doesn’t (ask the music industry). What it does is to encourage superfluous sales and make money for publishers, distributors and retailers.

Any self-respecting pirate can do a merry hornpipe around DRM. And most pirated books are not ripped off from digital versions anyway – they’re simply scanned from best-selling paperbacks.

What DRM in fact does is to treat honest-to-goodness buyers of copyrighted material like criminals-in-waiting. It makes a nonsense of the basic rights of ownership. But it’s good news for greedy publishers, retailers and distributors who tell you that if you want to hand over a book you’ve just enjoyed to your wife – buy another copy!

When you buy something (here we’re concerned with books rather than music, film, TV, etc), a copyright is in place and is respected by most buyers. We believe that legitimate buyers (there's another kind?) do not in any way infringe that copyright through the common, acceptable, lawful and fair practice of lending the book to their neighbour or friend or deciding to change the place on the virtual library shelf where it’s stored, the device they decide to read on.

DRM appliers do – many major publishers and some high-profile retail shops and some huge distributors.

I can’t remember who said this, but the words stick in my mind: “DRM manages artistic rights in the same way that prisons manage freedom.” But a book with a DRM restriction essentially locks down that work and allows ‘owner exclusive’ use ... and even the owner is going to have trouble if he wants to read his DRM book on any reader that’s not specifically licensed for it at the point of sale.

No names, no pack drill because, if you’re an ebook reader, you know who the culprits are, our sincere hope is that you will refuse to buy a book that carries DRM and that you will spread the word ... “WHEN YOU BUY A BOOK, IT’S YOURS TO DO WITH AS YOU WILL ... JUST DON’T MAKE A PIRATE BUSINESS OUT OF IT.”

BeWrite Books – like several other publishers and distribution agencies – trust our readers to play the game. We oppose DRM and support the right of readers to FAIRLY share what they buy and to keep it for use on any reading platform FOREVER.

Cheers. Neil


  1. I'm surprised any e-book publishers would use DRM, since it's actually encouraged piracy in some cases.

    The best-known case study was a PC game, Sid Meier's Pirates, where the protection (SecuROM) on the initial release was so strict that legally purchased copies rarely worked on DVD drives. Until a patch came out, people who purchased it legally sometimes had to get a pirated copy or break the copy protection to actually play it.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Oops ... your original post popped back up when we fixed the glitch.

    I agree, Tirial. These restrictions do not prevent piracy, so you begin to wonder if publishers, distributors and retailers may be using that as an easy excuse to make their product so captive that innocent users must buy owner-specific copies and increase sales.

    And should that be the case, you must also wonder who's really flying the Jolly Roger in these waters.

    Best. Neil

  4. You know, I've seen that acronym here and there but never knew what it was about. Many thanks for clearing that up for me, Neil!


  5. You're more than welcome, Bint. And do explain to your friends.

    Ebook reading is a reality. It's revolutionary in the same way as the codex was, the movable-type printing press, the relagtively new mass produced paperback. Remember that the words don't change. A book remains a book no matter how it's presented.

    Digital reading may not be for everyone (yet), but there is no denying its obvious and huge advantages. I believe it totally unacceptable that this wonderful progress is hampered by DRM and geographical restrictions imposed on ebooks.

    You know about geographical restrictions, Bint? That is when you try to buy an ebook from an online store and a message pops up to tell you that you can't have it because you live in the wrong country.

    We have non-US authors at BeWrite Books, for instance, who can't even buy the very books they wrote. Our Australian friends must jump through hoops and even tell fibs and disguise their true country of residence to buy pretty well anything.

    I'll save this subject for another blog rant next week.

    Meantime, though, I guess I'd better post something nice about treebooks. After all, as exciting as the ebook revolution is and even though ebook reading is catching on like wildfire, more than eighty percent of BeWrite Books titles are still bought in paperback.

    BUT, but, but ... that's woodless paper. Know about that? I'll save it for another time, but rest assured that no trees are sacrificed to produce a BeWrite Books paperback. We must confess, though, that when it comes to ebooks, we do inconvenience a few electrons.

    Hoots. Neil

  6. One of the customers’ freedom is the Social DRM - means enabling a buyer’s name and others info into a multimedia content to discourage copying. The old well known methods like visible watermarking etc are insufficient and broken:

  7. Point taken, Tomaz: I still believe the greatest threat to an author, though, is -- as Cory Doctorow says -- 'not piracy but obscurity'. DRM and watermarking as far as I'm concerned does not deter the determinedly nefarious, it merely inconveniences the tech-strapped honest. Yours is a heap nice blog, by the way, Tomaz. Thanks for putting us onto it. Cheers. Neil