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Point-Counterpoint: On Digital Book DRM

There is increased interest among trade publishers in pursuing some sort of “interoperable digital rights management” (DRM) for digital ebooks. There are many unlikely allies, who think that achieving a little DRM encourages publishers to move into digital spheres, and gives them breathing room. I think this is a really bad idea, and I wanted to publicly detail a few reasons.

What I’ve compiled is largely a list of counter-arguments; there are many affirmative defenses for unencumbered content that could be promoted. I’ve also numbered these paragraphs; on re-reading, they more often than not meld and intertwine as a potlatch of thoughts, and have not taken to my weak organization very well.

In a separate post, my friend and colleague Bill McCoy from Adobe will attempt to establish his own conclusions about whether an ebook DRM standard is a useful compromise, or a fool’s errand. (Note 11/24/08: Bill’s post is now available here.)

Why digital book DRM is Bad bad bad:

  1. The embrace of content restrictions reduces sales, lowers price points, and reduces revenues. No one has ever made this argument better than Tim O’Reilly, and he said it nearly six years ago: piracy is progressive taxation. The take home: “Give the wookie what he wants.”

  2. DRM antagonizes customers. DRM solutions inevitably frustrate the ability of consumers to interact with content they purchase (or license — this being an important distinction and an issue addressed separately). I recently heard one senior trade publishing executive indicate that DRM will be particularly necessary for libraries, presumably because books are more widely in circulation within libraries, and one wouldn’t want the students sharing books too widely, would one? Suspending for a moment the fact that any respectable engineering student would see ebook DRM as fruit ripe for picking, let us instead turn for comparison to the market for licensed journal content, where in book publishing theory there should be articles zipping around P2P networks faster than hotwired bits, driving Elsevier into the fiscal ground. Ahh, nope.

  3. First sale. Increasingly, content industries are persisting to embrace forms of either DRM-protected or licensed content acquisition, as opposed to more permissive ownership. I find many things disquieting with this approach, not the least of which it weakens the bond that consumers have with their culture. While that might sound academic, I would suggest that there is an important and fundamental difference in my behavior when I know that I own something that provides me with insight and beauty, versus knowing that my engagement is brokered by a corporation. In May of this year, I wrote a blog post called “On Owning Books” in which I suggested that the implicit prohibition of the first sale doctrine – the ability that I have to gift books that I own, and for libraries to lend them – would be a serious and gross mistake by publishers. I hold my faith in the truth of those words.

  4. DRM restricts the future. Even if DRM can be made relatively inconspicuous and step on the user with a relatively soft footprint, our expectations of media use and functionality will change more rapidly than the bodies governing DRM specifications can adjust to them. DRM can only be built for the world at hand, along with glimmers of the world just now peeking over the horizon; the greater promise of our inventiveness and creativity will inevitably be prohibited by any DRM system. DRM that is a requisite ticket to play in a market that is inherently anti-competitive and frustrates system-breaking innovation. We have no idea what the book of the future will look like: how it will be combined with other media, integrated with other content, and premised on user interaction. Publishers think they will be selling “books” but the books they will be selling are not the books of today. As Sara Lloyd of Pan Macmillan UK has noted in A Book Publisher’s Manifesto:

    One of the key perception shifts that publishers need to make, then, is about the book as ‘product’. Whilst the book continues to be viewed as a definable object within covers, as a singular ‘unit’, publishers will continue to limit their role in its production and distribution, and this is a sure fire way for publishers to write themselves out of the future of content creation and dissemination. …

    Publishers need to provide the tools of interaction and communication around book content and to be active within the digital spaces in which readers can discuss and interact with their content. It will no doubt become standard for digital texts to provide messaging and commenting functions alongside the core text, to enable readers to connect with other readers of the same text and to open up a dialogue with them. Readers are already connecting with each other …

  5. Technically infeasible. All DRM, technically, is reliant on a “closed system” — in other words, a system where there are tightly controlled and protected inputs and outputs. Apple, for example, appears to be complying with the desires of content owners and embedding support for High Bandwidth Digital Content Protection (HDCP) in its laptops. This standard frustrates copying content as it moves across display connectors. The classic problem with closed system design is that the system architect has to permit enough permeability to allow the user to actually interact with the system; additionally, operating systems themselves are rarely truly closed, and there are myriad ways of utilizing lower level services to frustrate permissions expectations for higher level software and hardware systems.

  6. Technically fragile. DRM systems do not age gracefully. Because they are tightly coupled systems — a series of protections that must all be aligned in order to permit proper functioning — DRM is particularly sensitive to technical obsolescence. Thus the value of content secured by DRM is inherently reduced compared to its unrestricted use state, because its anticipated future value is less. In turn, that reduces the ability of a DRM protected system to maximize revenue generation over the content’s lifecycle — and for books, the potential value should last more than my lifetime, but be able to be handed down to my daughter, now 7 years old, and generations beyond that. Libraries are not just about access, but preservation for the ages. DRM breaks libraries.

  7. Sociologically unrealistic. There is a weird veil of unreality in DRM discussions because it presumes that the publishing market is coherent, stable, and interoperable enough to not only permit but encourage creation and compliance with a standard DRM specification. This is not the case. Just to name one obvious example: Amazon has few incentives to relax its own proprietary approach to the distribution of content through the Kindle. Arguably, DRM can only be envisioned as a market-wide system only if those sectors of the market likely to opt-out are not financially relevant. However, the organizational “field” of publishing — the complete set of firms involved in the publishing enterprise — is heterogeneous, and likely to be more so over time.

  8. Strategically unsound. DRM discussions are feasible when there is an identified digital asset that can be protected. That might hold true, as a characteristic, for something like a song, or a movie. Books are texts, and DRM will only work when they are downloadable objects possessing binary wrappers. However, as the Google Book Search system might suggest, increasingly people may well turn to networked access for books, in which reading a book becomes a set of HTTP-brokered requests. There are tremendous advantages to network based reading, and as networks become more pervasive and more mobile, it is hazardous to presume that they will not evolve into the most prevalent form of book “ownership.”

    Google will vend access to online books to consumers and institutions if the proposed settlement with the AAP and the Authors Guild is approved by the U.S. SDNY court, but they will be gating book access via account names and institutional IP address ranges — authentication and authorization — a very different approach from restricting behaviors over a book “object” with DRM. Google has reserved the option of selling downloaded content (for now, most often mentioned in a PDF format), but whether they would want to participate in a publishing-centric DRM scheme of download content is subject to some considerable debate. And, for what it’s worth, not mentioned as part of the settlement.

  9. DRM is unfair. DRM requires technically sophisticated systems. This would limit access to digital books by those who could most benefit from it, in the developing world. At the bottom of the pyramid, prospective readers are least likely to have robust network connections, up to date software stacks, and modern devices. DRM disenfranchises the most important part of the world — the portion of the world that most seeks change, on one hand, and is most likely to be the source of world-changing transformation, on the other. What works in Africa will work everywhere, and what will be created for Africa, by Africans, will be the light of the future for more of the world than we might imagine. Publishers, above everyone, have an obligation to embrace the world, supporting access to the world’s knowledge and understanding.

  10. A final bit of history: DVDs. Some of my publishing colleagues point to DVDs as a positive case for DRM, positing that the (weak) DRM on DVDs preserved a market and enhanced revenue. There are many problems with this argument, just one being that DVDs didn’t strictly embrace DRM, but rather combined a weak encryption scheme (CSS) with embedded region encodings that prevented playback on the most prevalent consumer equipment.

    Let’s remember some critical characteristics of DVDs:

    1. They are likely the last digital media to be produced successfully in a physical format (with Blu-ray expected to be nearly dead on arrival). DVDs have been successful because they are convenient to use when network bandwidth is limited, and because they are owned objects, not because DRM encouraged greater sales. In many ways, DVDs are more like (print) books than ebooks. The growth sector is now Netflix/Roku, and Hulu, not DVD.
    2. Region codes actually reduced the size of potential markets. Regional, geographic restriction is a concept unfortunately familiar to book publishers, who are just now beginning to see their geographic sale of rights beginning to erode. In practice, DVD region codes sharply reduced the potential world market. A personal example: my household is Japanese and English, and yet these are two different region codes (“2” and “1” respectively). With some effort, I obtained a dual-region player, but the region codes helped keep Japanese films absurdly expensive in DVD format within the U.S., and sharply limited my household’s consumption of movies that we otherwise would have been happy to acquire.
    3. The DVD encryption scheme (CSS) was ripped off almost immediately, and has achieved a lore and fame singular in the Internet’s intersection with media industries. It’s trivially easy to move DVD content to one’s computer, if one is so inclined.

In sum, I think DRM for digital books is a bad idea for publishers, authors, and readers, not just today, but even more importantly, for the future.

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Comments: 22

  1. In the late 80s, there was talk of printing books in non-photo-blue ink, to foil “illegal copying” on Xerox machines.

    The arguments against DRM are legion, and generally distill down to: it’s dumb, it doesn’t work, and it’s a bad idea for society. Cory Doctorow’s magnificant Microsoft talk does this with panache.

    Any cross-platform DRM “standard” would be even dumber — since it’d be even easier to defeat.

    Publishers need to shift from thinking of every publication as a product, to publication as a process — every book is an advertisement for itself, and for other related books in the publisher’s fold. In that context, piracy and sharing is viral marketing.

    Let’s hope that this silliness goes the way of non-photo-blue ink on pages — thought that might be the only way to defeat those cheap bookscanners that turn a book into a searchable PDF in about an hour….

  2. peter-

    thanks for doing this grunt work to educate the idiots.


  3. I completely agree with much of what both you and Michael (and Sara) say about not treating books as products in and of themselves. To me they are a vehicle for distributing ideas, adventures, knowledge.

    What we can’t lose sight of, however, is without the process of creating that vehicle still requires a rigor and secrecy until that vehicle can be released. Books (in all their forms) are authoritative, crafted, works. They are edited, often through many iterations. They may be peer reviewed.

    In other words, while the new paradigm would say not to treat these as products, they still need to go through a product creation process.

    Isn’t it just more blunt to say that we’re arguing that publishers go through a product creation process and just give the content away so they can make money on the anscillaries?

  4. We know that DRM doesn’t work. In many cases it actually encourages piracy (see the recent Spore incident as an example). Yet content owners persist in flogging this dead horse. It’s mystifying, really.

    Why should publishers expect their DRM to succeed where all other forms of DRM have failed? In reality, they don’t. When I ask people in the industry about this I get various answers ranging from “authors and agents want it” to “DRM keeps honest customers honest”. The former excuse requires education, the latter excuse is just plain wrong.

  5. Are you being a bit lenient on Google (not a charge I would normally throw at you)? Not that the detail of the settlement is entirely their fault. Havent the publishers and Google now errected a vastly complicated Access Rights Management system which repeats many of the ‘errors’ of your litany of failings for traditional DRM systems? A comprehensive system of the type being planned has a very complex set of ‘regional’ access rights limitations. So its not just a matter of restricting access by account names and institutional IP ranges. Geographical regions sit on top of that in a more comprehensive way than do the regions for DVD. Most of your ‘problems’ have exactly analoguous problems with the Google ARM system, which will mean that publishers, authors, other content providers and consumers will be very, very keen to see a system of interoperable Access Rights Management systems, whether they can have that will be the litmus test for the potential open-ness of the Google/Rights Registry approach.

  6. i strongly appreciate peter’s efforts to do education here…
    i certainly don’t have the patience to engage in such efforts.

    but let me tell you foot-draggers why i’ve called you “idiots”.

    it’s because even if d.r.m. worked _perfectly_, it would be

    i don’t mean “wrong” in a moral philosophy sense, although
    i am shocked that people seem to want to lock up books…
    (don’t we understand the benefits of spreading knowledge?)

    i’m talking about “wrong” as in “that’s not what you should
    _want_ to do”. and “wrong” as in “it’s never gonna happen.”

    d.r.m. tries to impose scarcity artificially.

    but scarcity is not how you will succeed in our new world,
    because we can reproduce digital bits at will. and we will.

    now, i understand that your corporate business model
    has been born and bred in an environment of scarcity.
    and i can fully understand why you’d want to retain it.

    but that environment no longer applies to the digital world.
    scarcity is obsolete; there is no way it can be reintroduced.

    and the public ain’t gonna “pretend” that scarcity still exists,
    just for the privilege of continuing to be gouged by business.
    (a $600 billion “straw” just broke the camel’s back on all that.)

    if i know i can give a friend a perfect copy of a digital book
    _and_still_keep_my_own_copy_too_, why wouldn’t i do that?
    because you don’t want me to? because you made it illegal?
    oh please, do you really think you can enforce that stupidity?
    buy a clue.

    you simply can’t put the scarcity cat back in the scarcity bag.
    the public will just laugh, to your face and behind your back.
    the smart people are already laughing at your base stupidity.

    so if you still want to “make money” in this new environment
    — and i know that’s all you greedy little rats want to do —
    you’ve gotta do a 180 on your thinking, the sooner the better.

    you’ve gotta find a way to make _unrestrained_copying_ work
    _for_ you, instead of _against_ you.

    in new mode, you will _encourage_ people to copy, instead of
    trying (and failing, miserably) to make copying _impossible_…

    those are the capitalists who will make money in the new world;
    foot-draggers who try to live in the old world will be left behind.


  7. We’ve found that in the STM book market, no DRM makes our offering all the more attractive. Yes, it is a change from the previous ways we do business, but well worth it in order to usher in a new era of use for electronic books. We find that end-users are happy, sales are stimulated, and the librarian partner with us in educating their users on abuse (after all, they would like to protect the model that allows them the most return on investment). I hope that more and more publishers will move in this direction.

  8. Peter, take a look at the RPG industry. They sell their books in unsecured PDFs…and they’re getting creamed, because for everyone who buys one, ten people get it off of Usenet, the Pirate Bay or just get it emailed to them from their friends.

    This is what will happen to the rest of the book industry, I have no doubt, without some sort of content protection.

    You talk about the problems with interoperable DRM. Well, all we have today is single vendor DRM, which screws the entire ebook industry sideways, since no one wants to buy something that may not work in a year when the parent company decides not to sell ebooks anymore.

    I assume you’re proposing no content protection whatsoever.

    So…how do you propose the book industry avoid the sad fate of the RPG industry?

    (Be aware, by “RPGs”, I mean pen-and-paper games, not video games.)

    I’m honestly curious as to what your solution is, as I am surely not a fan of DRM. I just can’t think of an alternate proposal.

  9. Ben,

    First, I think the market for books and RPGs is wholly different; book buyers — or specifically buyers of any single identified book — are less likely to exist within tight, cohesive networks.

    There are so many overlapping book cultures — book buyers usually exhibit higher variation, and are less tightly bound in either online or physical world communications than gamers, perhaps with a few oft-mentioned exceptions (such as romance lit, or street lit, for example). But generally, whatever piracy might exist will have lower acceleration (ie sales erosion will be smaller), and be rather easily policed (as academic journal literature has found the control of intentional piracy quite tractable, for example).

    I suspect most book buyers who want a digital book will still buy a digital book, if they know it is the authentic thing. It is assuredly true that anything digital will be made available for free, somewhere — and yet nonetheless most people will be willing to buy (at an acceptable price) their own edition. But why they should do this must get into the next point, which also addresses in its own manner what it is that readers are actually buying.

    This second thing that I believe is that publishers have to figure out a new way of earning revenue in addition to, and aside from, the traditional sale of content. This is not a problem unique to book publishing, as you suggest, and is certainly confronted by any industry adapting to digital distribution and digital use. New models have to arise as the value of isolated digital content trends toward zero, and if publishers don’t react quickly enough to formulate successful responses, they will indeed cease business operations.

    I think for most people, in the future, when they buy a digital book, they will likely have an option of buying into a community offering ancillary goods and services. Indeed, perhaps the extent to which they want those facets might adjudicate where they fall into a tiered pricing plan. If they just want the book and to be left alone in their garret, then there might be a low (one-off) price for that. But otoh if they are interested in the history of the Low Countries, they might be willing to pay a far higher price to gain access to a publisher- supported online community of experts who are participating in an ongoing discussion on the history and culture of western europe, and open to engagement from paying subscribers. I would suspect that such a membership could package other attractive assets as well.

    Here I would note that there is a difference in communities of readers seeking primarily other readers (not necessarily to the complete exclusion of correspondence with authors) — perhaps my earlier examples of romance and street lit fall into this category — and communities where readers are seeking engagement with authors and experts — perhaps non-fiction themes are here most relevantly characteristic. The nature of the communities that I might build, as a publisher of the next generation, would therefore be quite different between these cases.

    Indeed, for all I know, it is conceivable that the whole worth of the publisher in the future is that community and its services, and in my case, I might “subscribe” to Oxford University Press because their list, and their stable of authors and assembled knowledgeable pundits and scholars (who might not necessarily be OUP authors), is a consistently compelling one to me. Books are simply one vessel for the kind of information (or entertainment) that I am interested in. Maybe I don’t pay for them at all – or only rarely – when they stand alone for me uniquely, and not as part of an on-going set of interests. Usually, instead, I might be subscribing to a community and an opportunity for engagement, and books would be an integral but not necessarily defining aspect of that offering.

    Publishers who figure this out – that the book is merely a historical product – a machine to think with – will not only discover but help create a new paying audience.

  10. Both Peter’s initial post and his comment make the essential points well.

    I would note that the services of publishers, like those of libraries, exist due to what economists call derived demand. What matters is that authors’ works be available to readers, collectively and individually. (Of course, many readers become authors, which is a good thing.) Historically, publishers and libraries have provided means that allow these connections and even encourage them. It seems certain to me that the institutional setup will change over time, in response to changes in technology. (Again, this is basic economic history. Technological and institutional change are intertwined.) Neither publishers nor libraries have a lock on any piece of the action. Their respective functions — making public and providing reliable and permanent access for use are what matter. DRM is inimical to good use (and to reliable preservation for use) and should not, and probably cannot, survive.

    People often ask, so what’s the business model that gets things published without publishers going bankrupt? There are many answers. One is, we don’t know. A second (implicit in the previous paragraph) is that the survival of particular firms and industries is almost never the most the important issue when there is technical change. A third is that publishing, in the literal sense of making works public, is thriving. There’s lots of stuff out there, lots of readers, lots of sharing of reading and writing and other

  11. Hi Peter, great list. I’d like to suggest a point #10.

    #10: DRM inhibits sampling – If you go to a bookstore, you can pick up a book and try it before you buy it. With DRM, digital publishers reach for the prospective customer’s wallet before they’ve earned their attention. This is backward. In this age where prospective customers have an infinite number of alternative media sources competing to inform and entertain them, they will follow paths of least resistance and travel past the artificial wall DRM places in front of the content. Publishers need to learn that if we earn the prospective customer’s attention, their wallet will follow. We encourage our authors to offer generous sampling of their books (many offer up to 50% or more). After all, if you give the customer a free digital download of the first 200 pages of your 400 page novel, odds are if they make it to page 200 (ie you earned their attention), you’ll earn their purchase.

  12. I think there are two forks in the road here that need to be taken into account in this debate. And they are not.

    One is between social and political arguments against DRM on the one hand and commercial arguments against it on the other.

    The second is between the historical, and still currently dominant, commercial model of developing content for revenues achieved through its sale and myriad future models that use the content as a door opener for subsequent revenue generation, perhaps through more content sales or perhaps through other means.

    Conflating these disparate realities leads to persistent confusion and arguments that run in circles.

    The job and responsibility of the publisher, whether corporate, entreprenurial, hobbyist, or not-for-profit, is to maximize the author’s interests and the value of the publisher’s own investment. In most (but not all cases), the author’s interest is in maximizing the author’s share of revenue from the book that was created. There are certainly circumstances where maximizing distribution of the IP takes precedence, and there are ways that could and probably should be reflected in contracts. But the safe assumption, most of the time, is that the author wants as much revenue out of their book as they can get.

    So, in the overwhelming majority of cases, a publisher has the responsibility to maximize revenue from a book’s sale. That is the job they accept when they ask the author to sign over the rights to exploit the copyright.

    If you look at most of the arguments for eliminating DRM above — virtually ALL the arguments made by Peter and most of the support in the commentary — they are political and social arguments, not commercial ones. The fact that DRM can be hacked by some, or is immmoral, or prevents Peter from sharing a book with his father the way he did in the old days, is something that should be taken to Congress. It is not something that will persuade any responsible publisher whose charge is to maximize revenue from the IP.

    I take (and advocate) the point that we are living in a moment where giving away content stimulates sales (although this is a magic trick that will stop working when it becomes too ubiquitous) and I certainly buy Tim O’Reilly’s formulation that obscurity is a greater enemy to far more authors than piracy. But that doesn’t translate into “eliminate DRM” to me: it DOES translate into making my Google books 100% readable on line, rather than 20%.

    But the second dichotomy is even more important: the economic world of today is the one we live in, not the one that will come tomorrow. I have written extensively that publishers must use content to ingratiate themselves to communities, and, ultimately, use community loyalty as a lever to generate new income opportunities. But that won’t happen overnight, and the path to it is anything but clear. Doing that will require experimentation, and experimentation will have to be financed from 20th century business models.

    Of all the posts above, only the one from Cynthia Cleto — which asserts that taking DRM off her books stimulated sales — is a relevant argument to make to a commercially responsible publisher operating today. If DRM really “doesn’t work” (and I really doubt the universality of that claim — or Peter Brantley would have had no problem giving a digital book to his father!) then that’s another good argument against it, because DRM costs money and margin that publishers could better employ other ways.

    But today’s commercial publishers have real pressures to deal with: many agents and authors ARE suspicious of what eliminating DRM would do to their sales and royalties. Publishers WOULD without a doubt lose commercial opportunities if they took the position they would turn copyable files loose. The moral, social, and political arguments are unhelpful to them, even if their sympathies and instincts run in an anti-DRM direction.

    And, frankly, this whole argument seems like premature luddism to me anyway. The idea of “owning” content is going away too. When we get to the point that it is “all in the cloud”, we’ll each own the access we purchase (which could, one assumes, include the right to give selective access to others). There won’t BE a file in your computer that is like the book you used to have on your shelf, frustrating you because you can’t “give” it away. I am wondering what the anti-DRM argument becomes when we get to that point.

    I would only conclude by saying that I am NOT a staunch advocate of DRM. In general, I think that only commercial-sized copying and resale should be pursued by the copyright police, not sharing among friends or family. But I also believe that authors and society benefit from healthy publishers and, in a world where we all have hundreds of “friends” on Facebook and more and more of us find it comfortable to read books digitally every day, I can’t believe there is no risk to reducing barriers to passing book files around.

  13. The contributions to this thread from different publishing perspective points to a couple of thoughts.
    1) Ultimately a new technology succeeds to the degree it meets customer demand or fills unmet needs.
    2) Publishing is 6 very different businesses, with very different customers who have different needs. (It is often the same person, but each business responds to a different set of needs.)
    3) In the context of publishing being a $30 billion business annually, STM publishing is the only business where digital product has become a statistically significant. If DRM doesn’t work for Springer products, that’s interesting. But as Mike S points out, doesn’t necessarily mean it can’t work elsewhere across these 6 businesses.
    4) Ultimately, unless any business can successfully monetize whatever it brings to market via whatever technology to whatever audience(s) the business will fail.
    5) The physical format of the book has made it possible up to now, with copyright protection, for publishers successfully to monetize the works of authors for both their benefits and to the satisfaction of the public… grown regrettably small in the US.

    The question, from the point of view of economics, is how do publishing businesses other than STM present their products in digital form so as to successfully meet market needs. DRM strikes me as a corollary issue. It may be useful or not, it’s not good or bad. As copyright has been essential up to now for successful monetization, it is understandable that trade publishing’s agents, authors and publishers might not feel comfortable without it. And certainly DRM has allowed for monetization to continue, not without problems, in music and films. Although other approaches work there as well.

    But DRM is a only a tool, and maybe not a great one, and maybe one that doesn’t work in the subscription-based STM marketplace. Until trade publishing creates digital products that gain the same kind of traction as they have in STM, and economically speaking until ebooks and other digital products achieve marketplace acceptance beyond the “rounding error” level that they currently are, it is going to be difficult to know which tools work best. Not that it shouldn’t continue to be examined.

  14. Mike,

    I think only an American capitalist would assume a strong divorce between the technical, political, social, and economic. Neither bird nor beast grows so. These are heavily intertwined spheres. As Mitch Kapor said, “Architecture is politics.”

    Fundamentally, DRM ultimately fails both sense and sensibility. And the concept of an interoperability of pervasive technical constraints (which is an aspect of DRM) is an oxymoron.

    A case in point that hit home sooner than I expected. I wrote above about my frustrations with DVD region codes. This morning, I asked my 7 year old to pick two DVDs to take to GrandDad’s house when we visit for Thanksgiving. She selected Pom Poko, a Japanese movie for which we have an American (Region 1) disc, distributed by Disney/ Buena Vista. She also picked Tonari no Totoro (My Neighbor Totoro), for which we have a Japanese (Region 2) disc. (Btw, the Japanese Studio Ghibli discs are way better than the American Disney discs on multiple counts.)

    My father does not have a multi-region DVD player. That means that my daughter cannot enjoy Totoro at GrandDad’s. I then had to explain DRM to my daughter. Would you imagine that to be a straightforward explanation?

    — “See kid, this is a Japanese disc, that we bought in Japan. It won’t work at GrandDad’s house because he doesn’t have the same kind of DVD player that we have.”

    — “But Dad, this is a Japanese movie too, and we bought it here in the U.S., and it works, so why can’t I play the Japanese disc of the Japanese movie at GrandDad’s?”

    Let’s ask obvious questions —

    • Is this fair? We bought the Totoro disc (it wasn’t cheap), and my daughter can’t play it at my Dad’s. Does that make sense to anyone?
    • Does the movie industry think that I should feel obligated to replicate every movie that I own in the DVD format of every region of the world in which I might live or visit?
    • If I ripped the Region 2 DVD onto my computer and then burned a Region 1 DVD for my own personal use, should that be illegal?
    • Apple Computer – oops, sorry, Apple Inc. – restricts my ability to play DVDs on my computer — which was purchased and not leased — by limiting the number of times that I can switch Regions for DVD playback. Is that fair? Is it smart?

    However you feel about those questions, and whatever your answers to them might be, this is the world of DRM.

    And it sure the hell pisses me off. A lot.

  15. I am glad that you put your true feelings forth at the end. And you’re entitled to them. But any publisher who has committed to an author to make money for said author and put her own firm’s money up in the process would probably not give a damn about how Peter Brantley feels.

    You do appreciate that you present a pretty unusual set of personal circumstances, but the answer to the one really pertinent question you ask — do I think you should you be allowed to copy stuff you acquired for your own use? — is absolutely yes and I said as much in my prior post. I’d draw the line on policing where somebody is doing it to make money, but that is not the same thing as throwing everything unprotected into the marketplace.

    And what pisses me off is that I can’t read on my Kindle ragged right. What I’ll be glad to debate with you is whose anger is more justified. I am certain mine is. But if we do that, let’s do it offline.

    Oh, one other thing. If you want book publishers to stop using DRM, the people you’re trying to persuade are largely “American capitalists.” It normally isn’t effective to disparage so openly the very class of people you’re trying to persuade. Which was, actually, my central point. Apparently ineffectively made.


  16. Mike,

    I was hardly disparaging a whole nation of capitalists, only noting that some individuals occupying this (U.S.) society present a version of capitalist ideology that is more “focused” than that found in some other societies. As to whether I am trying to convince that class (which is certainly not a class in a formal sense) … that can only come through conversation, dialogue, and engagement, which is why we are both participating here, after all; persuasion benefits from many voices, and the strength of mine alone is feeble indeed.

    But clearly I am going to have to figure out how to get you a nice new t-shirt that says “American Capitalist” on it, perhaps in Helvetica. 🙂

    Yours, Ragged Right –

  17. Peter,

    Actually, I’d love the T-shirt, but I’d prefer Times Roman.


  18. Peter,

    “I suspect most book buyers who want a digital book will still buy a digital book, if they know it is the authentic thing.”

    Note the operative term: book buyers. This is like music buyers – a disparate population of people who have interests in different things.

    A lot of music buyers purchase from the iTunes store, which has DRM. Many of those buyers started off as pirates; why? Because there was no way to buy it online that was reliable. Why have they gone from being pirates to buyers? Because of legal threats and because of the fear of downloading something malicious from the piracy networks.

    Do they care about iTunes DRM? By and large, no. But when they do care about it, it’s because they can’t port their music to a new, non-Apple device. They care about interoperability.

    (By the way, I wholly disagree with your assertion that DRM can’t be interoperable, as I’ve designed such systems, and they’d work, independent of device architecture. Your claim is based on existing technology, which is fine, but not supportable.)

    You said:

    most people will be willing to buy

    See here: http://thepiratebay.org/top/601

    Most of the books in there were released, DRM free, and I’m willing to wager that more of those books are being downloaded from places like The Pirate Bay than were ever purchased.

    In short, I have two thoughts, here:

    1) If people can get something for free with little risk, they will. Currently, ebooks are hard to load up with viruses and other crap, and ebook publishers aren’t seeding the networks with bad copies, like the music industry does. So people download ebooks. And comic books, as well, which are also taking a major hit from piracy.

    2) If people can pay for something when the risk of piracy gets too great, they will, so long as it’s reasonably priced and preferably, interoperable.

    3) If people can make infinite copies of something and give it away, they will.

    Let’s assume, for a moment, that interoperable, single-copy DRM were possible. Let’s assume it allowed for book browsing, lending, re-selling and all the other things paper books allow for now. Let’s assume that publishers sold these ebooks for a reasonable price, given that the publishers aren’t paying for printing, storage, shipping, etc.

    If those assumptions were in place, I can’t see why ebooks wouldn’t be as successful as iTunes has been in reducing music piracy, and still managing to make everyone reasonably happy.

    Nothing I’ve seen in this thread, to date, has convinced me otherwise.

  19. mike said:
    > I can’t believe there is
    > no risk to reducing barriers
    > to passing book files around.

    please make sure you keep telling that to your clients, mike.

    over and over. make sure they feel it deep in their bones…

    i want to see them accelerate as they run their boat ashore…


    p.s. make copying work _for_ you, not _against_ you. 10/4.

  20. Of particular interest is the exchange above between @MikeShatzkin and @Peter.

    Mike’s position invokes the pragmatism of Rummy’s “You go to war with the army you’ve got” stump speech.

    I get we have to do business in the market we’ve got, not the idealized one we want.
    I get publishers need to protect their IP with any legal means necessary.
    But I don’t get how you can support fair-use and copy-protection at the same time.

    DRM does not “draw the line where somebody is (pirating) to make money.”
    It impinges on the otherwise honest reader regardless if that is in “a world where we all have hundreds of “friends” on Facebook” or not.
    Mike seems to be conflating piracy with fair-use. He supports one and condemns the other, but then implies we are naive for thinking “that reducing barriers to passing book files around” is risk free.
    Excuse me?

    I too think it is interesting to isolate the social/political versus commercial arguments for DRM from the we-need-to-do-what-we-need-to-do-to-stay-in-business arguments. With the latter, you arrive at an actionable position but it is, by definition, an exercise in justification.

    For me, you don’t have to look much past Peter’s first point: DRM is anti-consumer.
    That is as commercial/historical as it needs to get. When you go to war with your customers you end up in a mess.

  21. “3) If people can make infinite copies of something and give it away, they will.”

    Because you have observed some people doing this, why do you assume that ALL people do? I have copies of books that are not DRM crippled and I have not given them away to anyone nor posted them on the Internet. SOME of us are willing to pay the author his $2.50 for his book even if offered it for free from a friend.

    I vote with my wallet. I mostly avoid DRM books on principal. The principal that I thought I bought the book, just like the paper one. I want the e-book variety because it is easier to hold, has variable font display and takes up no room on my already overcrowded book shelf. I don’t care that I cannot give the book away as I can my paper books. If you can’t afford the $2.50, then you probably also break the speed limit when you drive and piss and moan at the people who don’t.

  22. For those that assume all reading will be via the “cloud”, I submit that this will not happen in my lifetime. I don’t think the “cloud” is going to be available like GPS in the foreseeable future and I hope it does not. There is enough EMF pollution already without adding that to the environment. I have a Kindle so I can take it with me, not have it follow me around. I really cannot imagine having access with very little power usage at 30 degrees north latitude and 140 degrees west longitude.