padlock[2] Matt Bradbeer has a piece on FuturEBook looking at the ineffectiveness and irritation of e-book DRM. It is very similar to the piece we posted here a few days ago talking about much the same thing. In Bradbeer’s words:

DRM is easily removed and therefore pointless, costly and a barrier to sale.
DRM does not stop piracy, it is restrictive and therefore it promotes piracy.

pirateit[1] He points out that DRM is easy to remove for those people with a little technical know-how, whereas people without the know-how but want to get copies of books that they can use outside DRM’s narrow bounds will generally still know how to download illicit versions from peer-to-peer.

Bradbeer points out that complex or malfunctioning DRM is also a burden on small e-book retailers, who have to field the tech support questions that invariably come from confused or angry users. (Given my experiences in my current full-time tech support day job, I can understand exactly where he’s coming from!)

When coupled with a 3 download limit the problem is intensified and we, the small retailer, end up refunding and praying that we will get a credit back. We also end up playing first line support for Digital Editions and offering technical support, which is a real pain, but always done with a smile.

Meanwhile, on Read Write Web, Frederic Lardinois has an article about a study showing that e-book piracy from filesharing websites such as RapidShare has increased by more than 50% over last year, 20% of that since the launch of the iPad.

There seem to be some concerns about this study’s methodology, and it also focuses on only one sector of the peer-to-peer world, but even looking at it generally it still shows that as interest in e-books increases, so does interest in obtaining them illicitly.

Sooner or later, publishers are going to have to decide which they want: DRM and more piracy, and no DRM and less piracy. While I doubt that anything will ever completely eliminate illicit downloads, I think dropping DRM would go a long way toward cutting their numbers—especially if at the same time publishers focused on building communities the way Baen has. Baen books are very rarely seen on pirate sites, in part because the community gives “faces” to the people who it would hurt.


  1. Another consideration is availability.. Recently I wanted to read a book that had no ebook version. So the first thing I did after checking amazon, b&n and the authors website is look for a pirated version. Nothing to do with drm, just gave up after trying buy the book. I figured if they don’t want my money why should I give they any.

    Piracy is the fan’s nuclear option.

  2. DRM has nothing to do with piracy.

    Books with DRM are pirated, books without DRM are pirated just as much.

    Expensive books are pirated, cheap books are pirated. “Evil” conglomerate publishers’ books are pirated, tiny publishers’ books are pirated, self-published books are pirated. Books by rich authors are pirated, books with the profits going to a charity for children or earthquake survivors are pirated.

    It all boils down to the simple fact that some people get off on hurting others and belittling people who create things they can’t.

    It all boils down to the something for nothing because I’m entitled to it mentality.

  3. I am afraid Marilynn that your opinion is not born out by numerous studies over the last 15 years, and by most people’s direct experience of the similar situation of the music industry. This propaganda used by the Publishers and Agents is not being listened to by anyone familiar with the real world.

    DRM incites piracy. DRM is big brother reaching into our lives. DRM is poison to the publishing industry and to every serious writer who wants to make a living. Over pricing is equally inciting piracy. I have absolutely no sympathy for those who use it or those who are reaping the super profits from current excessive pricing. None whatsoever.

    The recent history of the music industry has also demonstrated clearly that the vast majority of ordinary people are fully prepared to pay fair prices for their music and the incredible success of music sales online, and through places such as iTunes,has proven this. Music piracy has plummetted to a tiny tiny minority.

    eBook piracy is on the verge of an explosion. I have seen acquaintances of mine do it. I have seen them download more than ten books after finding that the prices on Amazon and other sites were 25% more than the paper price. I said to them good on you !

    If the Publishing industry persevere with their current mindless policies we will see torrent site downloads reach the level of music downloads of five years ago within five years and be assured – there is absolutely nothing anyone can do about it, government, enforcement, ISPs. No one.

  4. I recently bought a book from diesel-ebooks without realizing that it would have DRM and I would be forced to read it with Adobe Digital Editions which is not a fun way of reading ebooks and I couldn’t read it on my iPad. So I bought it a second time from another ebook store as I have no idea how to remove the DRM. But paying twice was quite frustrating.

  5. DRM doesn’t have to a burden. It should simply be standardized so that you can choose on which device you want to read your books. There isn’t a single technical obstacle to achieve this, but there are many commercial obstacles. Through proprietary DRM bookshops try to bind customers to them. They create closed worlds. This is an enormous regression compared to paper books.

    At the same time book encryption can be very hard to crack if implemented using Public Key Infrastructure (PKI), which is the same technology that is used when you contact your bank over the Internet.

    Technically, when you create an account at a bookshop a pair public/private keys would be issued. There would be a standard protocol between the e-reader and the bookshop to transfer the private key to the reader once. In my opinion this should be part of OPDS, a catalog protocol. The books you buy would be encrypted with standard AES using a long key. This key would be embedded in the book and be encrypted itself with your public key, which is also a long and hard to crack key. Copying a book for someone else would required a copy of your private key. Not only will this be difficult to achieve, but it is also traceable, precisely because it was issued especially for you.

    In practice you would have several accounts/catalogs on your readers, one for each bookshop, but you would never have to do anything special to make a book readable for you. This is the experience a user has with iBooks on iTunes. However, by using this standard technology you would be able to transfer your books to any reader you want. Since you would have only one bookshop account per bookshop it would be very impractical to read copied books.

  6. “According to the first empirical study of its kind in the UK, by Cambridge law professor Patricia Akester, it’s the former. DRM is so rage-inducing, even to ordinary, legal users of content, that it can even drive the blind to download illegal electronic Bibles.”

  7. > Baen books are very rarely seen on pirate sites, in part because the community gives “faces” to the people who it would hurt.

    As much as I love Baen, I have to seriously question this statement. Their books are available on pirate sites, just like others are. As a quick test, I had no trouble finding the second Monster Hunter book by Larry Correia that got released on webscriptions a little over a week ago for instance.

    A different question however is how much they’re hurt by this – their ebooks are very cheap, available at the same time as the hardcover comes out (and even before if you want the ARC) and can be easily purchased directly from Baen, giving the reader a feeling that they’re supporting the publisher and author directly, rather than giving the Amazons and B&Ns of the world a cut. The books would be pirated regardless of DRM or not, but how much that would impact real sales is relatively unknown. Some people would pirate regardless, for some it’s a question of price and others availability and ease of access. There’s a ton of reasons why people pirate, and not all of them are equivalent to lost sales. Having a good sales model like Baen does can offset that to a certain degree, but it certainly won’t eliminate it.

  8. If it is mentally and physically easier to pirate than it is to purchase an ebook, then piracy will win out. It is in our nature to be lazy. This is what I call the Principle of Easy.

    This is why itunes has been so successful in the world of music piracy that napster created. Napster was really easy to find music for anyone from a youth to someone who was 80. The problem with napster was the quality of music and the time you needed to spend messing with the file names and metadata so it all made it into a proper library. itunes made is even easier in that the quality and metadata issues were already solved, plus all the music was downloaded into a very user friendly gui. This was despite DRM and a small cost per song. They even went further and destroyed DRM’d music later, making it even better for the customers. This super easy model is what counteracted the ease of pirated music and why digital music is flourishing today.

    The movie industry and publishing industry is either run by complete idiots who don’t understand this, or it is run by people too set in their ways to make the switch. There are some that say that books are different than movies and music, and they are right, they are different, but the Principle of Easy remains the same. For example:

    Legally purchased workflow:
    1. Find out which website sells the book
    2. Find out which website has the cheapest price
    3. Find out if that website has the format you can use
    4. Find out if that website will sell to you at your present location and credit card/paypal system
    5. Make sure your DRM applications are uptodate and have your device(s) registered OR have all the python scripts set up to strip out the DRM of your purchase
    6. Download purchased book and using DRM software (if works to do so or strip out DRM) to put the ebook on your device.

    Pirate workflow:
    1. Google search ebook
    2. Download ebook
    3. Convert (if necessary) the ebook into a format your reader can use
    4. Put book on your reader.

    6 steps for legal vs 4 steps for pirated version. The Principle of Easy leads us to use the pirated version.

  9. Sorry, I should have proofed better. When I said “us” in “The Principle of Easy leads us to use the pirated version”, I meant human nature, not me specifically. I only buy DRM books or I strip out the DRM of any purchased books.

  10. Legal book purchasers tend to pick one site and stick with it so most of those steps are removed. The one click to buy it method is one of the main reasons Amazon is so wildly popular.

    I certainly hope that people don’t consider theft of so little moral importance that easy is more important than doing right.

    The right to property and “thou shall not steal” are major cornerstones to civilization.

    The right to be paid for one’s work is also part of this argument. No pay equals no work.

    I can see a day when the only published works will be inspirationals and religious tracts because their readers are the only ones left to pay authors.

  11. If you live in Australia, a large number of books are not available as ebooks, because publishers have blocked them. We can see them on Amazon, etc, but because publishers want me to have to walk into a bookstore, I can’t buy them electronically.

    That is extremely frustrating and leads to us looking for downloads any way we can get them. Publishers are definitely losing income over this.

  12. Werner – I got tired half-way throught the explanation which is what most consumers want.

    First off I get that publishers have to show they are trying to protect their property. I’ve always understood that. But then there is the simple fact that using a technology solution like DRM is easily defeatable. And as shown with gaming as you do is hurt the paying consumer. Want to be Ubisoft, be my guest but expect someone to make a headline that says you hate soldiers.

    Consumers want to use their ebooks the same way they use physical books and that means sharing that book with anyone they deem and putting it on any device they want to read it. Publishers don’t want that and think that a new technology will allow them finally a way to control that aspect of books they never had control of.

    It’s simple publishers can learn from the RIAA or repeat their mistakes. I’m leaning towards the second option right now.

  13. Chris,

    I publish without DRM, have done so for years, partly thanks to the encouragement of this website:-)

    But I get pirated all the time, and it gets worse and worse. And as the incidence of piracy goes up, the “authority” of piracy sites rises in Google, to the point that Google now directs people searching for my most popular eBook (the electronic version of a printed book) to FilesTube before Amazon or my own website. I did a video showing this:

    Note that the piracy site Google has #1 for searches on my title also attempts to trick visitors into installing malware. We spoke about this issue years ago, I don’t know if you read the comments here, but feel fee to follow up with me direct. The latest Google algo has wreaked havoc on those of us who publish much of our work online by moving scraper sites and other copyright infringers ahead of us in the search results. I was willing to live with piracy as long as I still had a viable business model, but readers who would like to see new works from me are going to wait a long time, as in, forever, if I can’t even rank higher than copies in Google.



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