As I was browsing through Zite last night to find more stories to blog, I came across what was effectively an advertisement (though Zite apparently considered it a blog article; clearly the program needs some fine-tuning) for an EPUB DRM removal tool. I’m not going to link to this advertisement, because I don’t want to provide it with even a smidgin of search-engine-optimization respectability.

Suffice it to say this program, “ePub DRM Romoval,” sells for $29.95 and offers “easy access to DRM-free ePub ebooks for your iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, NOOK, Sony Reader and more ebook reader with fast conversion speed.” And it very probably does so using source code from extant DRM-removal plugins for the Calibre e-book conversion tool, which are provided on-line completely free. (Though not linking them either, since I could get in trouble for it under the DMCA.)

I can’t say for sure whether this particular app does or not, but I’ve seen reports of other pricey commercial DRM-removal apps that did so. I would be surprised if it didn’t; when the code is out there for free already, it makes more sense to grab the low-hanging fruit than to reinvent the wheel.

I’ve already discussed at length how consumer-unfriendly DRM is, and I don’t feel the need to rehash those arguments here. But as applications such as this one prove, another problem with DRM is that it provides ways for sleazy app repackagers to scam consumers with ripped-off-and-repackaged source code. If you know anyone who might be considering buying one of these, warn them away!

(I have actually mentioned these apps before, but it’s worth bringing up again just to make sure people are warned anew.)


  1. I can understand your feelings about software that is using source code that is readily available for free, but a product like this would interest readers like my sister. When I described to her about using DRM-removal plugins for Calibre, I quickly saw her eyes glaze over and announce that that’s great for people who understand computers. So I end up stripping her files of DRM, so she can add missing covers (Random House ebooks!) and fix spelling mistakes. So if this software created a easy, idiot-proof way of stripping DRM, I say kudos for them, for “apprentice alf” has not made it simple for “some” ebook readers.

  2. I have to agree with Stew. I have never been able to get the “apprentice alf” stuff to work, or even the earlier python scripts, so I’ve never been able to crack a book. This stuff is for techies only, and I’m a techie and can’t get them to work.

    Further, I find Calibre extremely complicated, confusing and unintuitive. I think a computer novice would find the program impenetrable.

    I think these programs have a real place in the market and have often thought of buying one myself.

  3. I agree with the other posters: $30 is peanuts for a well-written interface that makes it easy and intuitive to do what you want to do, and a help system that tells you what to do when things go wrong. Of course, I don’t know if these programs have that, but if they do they’re worth every cent.

  4. Chris I think you are getting a little over exercised on this one. The computer world is full of commercial applications being charged for that do the same job as many other free ones using freely available tools. So what’s the big deal ? It’s a free choice.
    Often the commercial apps offer a better interface, a more straight forward and easier to use process and make the whole thing easier to manage for non-technical computer users. In a world where hassle value is measured in time and money I would suggest that it’s a fair offer.
    I have no idea if this particular app qualifies, but the principle seems fine to me.

  5. Paul, as far as I’m concerned, you are spot on in your evaluation of Calibre. I know that many people on the Kindle forums think it is wonderful, but I am not one of them. Its only use for me has been to make title and author display correctly on my device for some public domain books which are deficient in this respect. On the other hand, there are people who have used Calibre to sort out e-libraries of hundreds of books.

  6. What evidence do you have that this product has copied code from Calibre, as opposed to copying the user interface? In any case, it might not be a problem, or not in the way that you’re suggesting.

    Calibre is distributed under the GNU GPL (General Public License), which allows people to incorporate code into commercial products, as long as they make that code and their modifications to it available to customers under the GPL. Of course, this means that anybody is allowed to compile that code and release their own version of the program for free (or cheaper than the first guy), so most software companies don’t use GPL’d code in their products. Or if they do, they don’t release their changes to the code. This, not the initial copying of the code, is what gets them into trouble with the original authors.

  7. While I do not condone the use of these programs I can understand why people use them. Book company’s band together and over charge on books. The digital books should be cheaper because there is no paper involved, and very little effort goes into the cover art… most of the time the cover is just a computer generated piece of drivel that could be accomplished by a high school freshman. Yet they still charge the same price as a hard copy? That’s just wrong. Where are the savings to the consumer?

  8. For Windows users I can understand some problems with the Tools at Apprentice Alf’s site. You must either use calibre (which no everyone likes) or you must install python and encryption software to be able to use the stand-alone tools.

    But on Mac? The alternative to calibre on Mac is a application on which you just drag&drop DRMed ebooks, and the DRM is removed. I can’t see how it could get simpler.

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