To DRM or not to DRM – with apologies to Hamlet!
Hopefully Shakespeare’s ghost will forgive me for mangling that line from Hamlet’s famous soliloquy!
(Note: This article has previously been posted on the PenWarriors blog)
A couple of weeks ago when I sent out a tweet announcing that all my eBooks are available in DRM-free editions from Amazon and Smashwords, someone asked for clarification. The subsequent conversation sent me on a hunt for clear descriptions of the DRM (Digital Rights Management) issue as it applies to eBooks. My aim in today’s blog is to give a brief, plain English explanation of Digital Rights Mangement (DRM), with links to more technical information for those who want to learn more.
What is Digital Rights Management?
“DRM technologies attempt to control use of digital media [ebooks, digital music files, computer software] by preventing access, copying or conversion to other formats by end users.” Calibre eBook management
“When you buy an e-book with DRM you don’t really own it but have purchased the permission to use it in a manner dictated to you by the seller. DRM limits what you can do with e-books you have ‘bought’.” Calibre eBook management
For those who want the comprehensive, technical definition and history, see Wikipedia
Information About Digital Rights Management
Background – software and CDs: In the 1980s and 1990s digital rights technology was used on some computer software and music CDs in an attempt to stop piracy. This technology frequently caused legitimate users to experience computer problems because of the temperamental nature of the DRM control software, and also violated privacy in some instances. The problems experienced by blameless users of select Sony BMG CDs resulted in the music industry giving up on DRM. The computer software industry also moved away from DRM to a “serial number” and “registration key” model because DRM not only made legitimate users furious, but it was found to be ineffective in stopping piracy.
DRM does not stop piracy: As early as 2003, HP Laboratories Cambridge reported “We conclude that given the current and foreseeable state of technology the content protection features of DRM are not effective at combating piracy.”
DRM and digital books: Despite the negative experience of the music and computer software industries, many traditional publishers use DRM on eBooks, although there is an increasing body of mainstream information indicating that although costly, it is not effective:
It is estimated that the maintenance cost of DRM will reach $9 billion by 2012.
Book piracy: less DRM, more Data – O’Reilly Radar. O’Reilly’s research on sales of their books showed an increase in sales for their books that had been pirated. O’Reilly subsequently removed DRM from their titles.
DRM does not stop eBook piracy. The DRM technologies used by Amazon, Adobe, and Barnes and Noble have all been broken by pirates
Recent studies like this one reported in The Register indicate that piracy may not be a serious threat to publishers. Joe Karaganis, vice president of the American Assembly think-tank told The Register – “… ethics [are] at work in these decisions [by consumers] …All other things being equal, people prefer to obey the law.”
I first began reading eBooks in the 1990s when I purchased a Rocket eBook reader, and have owned a number of electronic reading devices since then. I quickly learned that when I buy a book with DRM technology, I might not be able to read that book on future devices I purchase.
That’s a problem for me. I love to reread favorite books, and I don’t want to have to pay over and over again for the same book. So whenever possible I choose to purchase DRM-Free versions of eBooks.
For more information on digital rights for readers, see
Digital Books and Your rights: A Checklist for Readers from the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
Canadian readers see E-Books and the New Copyright Bill
How can you tell if the book you want has DRM technology?
In The Real Cost of Free, Cory Doctorow reports that, “Apple, Audible, Sony and others have stitched up several digital distribution channels with mandatory DRM requirements, so copyright holders don’t get to choose to make their works available on equitable terms.”
However, many eBook sellers do allow copyright holders to choose whether books will be sold with, or without DRM, and a growing number sell only DRM-Free books. I’ve given a list below, and if you know of other sources for DRM-Free books, please comment and I’ll update the list.
Sources for DRM-free books
Project Gutenberg –free books in the public domain for multiple formats.
Smashwords – over 30,000 books, available in multiple formats – EPUB, Kindle, and others
Calibre Open Books – listings for DRM-Free eBooks. Follow links under titles to see formats available. If you are an author or publisher of DRM-Free eBooks and your books are not listed on Calibre’s site, you can add your books to their listings
BeWrite Books – all DRM-Free books in multiple formats
Baen – speculative fiction DRM-Free eBooks for multiple formats
Sources selling DRM and DRM-Free eBooks. Check to be sure which you’re getting.
Fictionwise.com – books labeled “multiformat” are DRM-Free and are available in multiple formats.
KoboBooks – see “Download options” in the book description, and look for the words DRM-Free
Amazon Kindle books – the method described on this Calibre page for checking if books are DRM-Free no longer works. If anyone knows how to tell if an Amazon book has DRM, please comment and I’ll update this post.
Converting eBooks from one format to another
Calibre’s free eBook library management application is the tool I use to convert DRM-Free books so that I can read them on my iPad AND my Kindle – and any other device I buy in future. It’s also a great program, the price is right (I do donate periodically because Calibre does a great job of updating its library of reading devices and it’s a great free service.) Information on converting is available at Calibre‘s website
A short post … NOT! LOL!
I intended to write a short post, less than 500 words, but I couldn’t manage it! Sorry for the length, but I hope this is useful to eBook readers and authors.