Vint CerfPerhaps OverDrive‘s Steve Potash and DRM zealots such as Microsoft–a possible investor of his?–should listen to an e-book reader named Vinton Cerf. Yo, Steve. Remember, the guy who helped invented the network through which you hope to become the Bill Gates of e-books?

“Can we retain intellectual property in this digital age?” the Manchester Guardian asked Cerf.

“I hope we find a way through,” Cerf replied, and went on to some words that might as well have come from the TeleBlog:

The eBook has turned into a frustrating example. I’m a big fan of eBooks: I like reading them on my laptop but I’ve discovered that after it has been downloaded, I can’t transfer it to anyone. This is a problem, especially if you switch computers. Suddenly it’s very hard to transfer that content over to the new computer. I’ve already paid for it, I’m not trying to make copies of it … I just want to put it on my laptop. There may be a way to do it but it’s annoying and time consuming.

If you want to know why e-books are just a $20-million-a-year industry, Cerf’s comments bespeak plenty with the “anyone” reference. E-books are a social medium. People want to share them at least with family and friends, just as with paper books. Under TeleRead, file-sharing could take place with compensation mechanisms for content-providers, including those paid out of a national digital library fund, which would at least partly reduce the temptation for piracy. Plus, backups wouldn’t be such a hassle. Yes, you can make them even now on different machines, but it’s often far more difficult than it should be, thanks to DRM.

DRM vs. love of ownership

Another wicked aspect of today’s DRM is that it encourages proprietary formats, which can come and go, raising questions about the permanence of your purchase. People want to own books for real. Note Vint Cerf’s “I’ve already paid for it.” Exactly! Why, horror of horrors, fathers and mothers may even hope to pass their purchases on to sons and daughters after the parents’ deaths.

The word from Steve is that he’d rather that OverDrive-carried books not be DRMed so heavily, and I can understand his problems with some publishers. Still, Steve has agreed to a Microsoft-blessed system under which all of his client publishers have no choice but to pay for DRM capabilities even when they don’t want any of the stuff. What’s more, in the past, OverDrive’s conversion services were exploiting the expensive complications of the Tower of eBabel, which rose in part because of the oft-proprietary nature of DRM. I hope Steve can leave this all behind him now that he’s winding down his conversion services.


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