As publishers, we want our readers to be as free as possible to do what they want with the books we sell them, as long as we don’t get robbed.
Classic DRM doesn’t do this. It ties the reader to particular reading devices and software and imposes unreasonable restrictions — on lending or giving away e-books — simply because the technology can’t regulate these activities and so must ban them. Classic DRM is equally bad for the publisher because he has to buy in (literally) to one DRM platform or another and be tied to a specific distributor who can provide support for it. He sees important word-of-mouth amplifiers such as lending banned, and the giving of his e-books as gifts made virtually impossible. Word of all, for both reader and publisher, DRMed books suffer from bitrot and in a decade from now most of them will be unreadable.
Social DRM is the obvious, humane alternative. We all know what the reasonable use of a book is, even if we can’t necessarily formulate rules that capture its essence. So let’s mark each e-book with its buyer’s fingerprint and tell the buyer to act fairly and reasonably. A fingerprinted e-book can be read on any e-book reader in the world, and always will be readable on them. If someone makes illicit copies for all his friends and relations, we won’t notice, but equally we won’t lose much. If someone decides to ruin us by selling thousands of copies of the book we sold him, we’ll buy one of those copies, see who he is, and ruin him back.
That’s the theory. Now for the questions.
Is anyone actually using social DRM?
Is it working?
If, by making available a reasonably-priced socially-DRMed e-book, we remove the reasonable motives for hacking, will it stop happening? Or are there enough fundamentalist neo-Stallmanites around who will make it a point of honour to get hold of every book, remove its DRM fingerprints, and make it available for free download? “Books are information and information wants to be free”.
Are there methods of social DRM marking that will survive a passage through (for example) Calibre?
Can we build a consensus that fingerprinting is honest and respectable, and persuade toolmakers to preserve it on file conversion and not to supply tools for removing it?