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At TOC: Cory Doctorow to Publishers: Demand Option To *Not* Use DRM

I knew Cory Doctorow would be a great wrap up to the first day morning keynotes at TOC, and he more than delivered.

He ended the keynote with a challenge to publishers: withhold digital content from any device or service that doesn’t give you the option to exclude DRM. (For example, right now publishers cannot sell books on the Kindle or audio books on Audible without DRM.) He’s proposing “Doctorow’s Law” which I’m paraphrasing here from memory:

If someone takes something that belongs to you, and puts a lock on it that you don’t have a key for, that lock isn’t in your best interests.

We couldn’t agree more, and it’s a big reason we sell all of our ebooks (now more than 400) without DRM (and with a Kindle-compatible format that can be added manually to a Kindle), and why we don’t enable DRM in our iPhone Apps either. I agree with Cory, and strongly encourage publishers to not use DRM at all for their digital content, but at a minimum, it should at least be a choice for a publisher to make.

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Comments: 6

  1. We already know that DRM doesn’t work anyway. Let’s move on and give the public what they want.

    I’m not in the slightest bit impressed with the Kindle in any case. Overpriced bloatware.

  2. > If someone takes something that belongs to you,
    > and puts a lock on it that you don’t have a key for,
    > that lock isn’t in your best interests.

    oh, that cory. he’s brilliant, isn’t he?
    what a stunningly nice jujitsu move…

    he’s telling publishers that the d.r.m. lock
    which amazon puts on the books it sells
    is not in the “best interests” of publishers,
    because the publishers don’t have “a key”.

    forget the fact that amazon was responding
    to demands _by_ those publishers for d.r.m.

    forget that “the right to give away a book”
    is an option exercised by _the_customer_,
    via first-sale doctrine, _not_ the publisher.

    (the “something that belongs to you” here
    is “something” which the publishers think
    belongs to them, and not their customers,
    and cory plays to their mistaken thinking.)

    so cory is _not_ telling those publishers to
    reject d.r.m. per se (as that wouldn’t work).

    he’s telling them to reject d.r.m. over which
    they do not have any _control_ — “the key”…

    very clever. in the extreme.

    what if publishers start demanding “control”
    — demanding “the key” to amazon’s “lock”?
    what good does it do them? they already have
    the content, and the legal right to reproduce it.
    so, on the face of it, they have gained _nothing_.

    but it leads to the situation where the d.r.m. is
    “compromised” more easily and quickly, which
    is the reason (you will recall) that steve jobs gave
    (in his famous letter) why apple wouldn’t license
    their d.r.m. when there are “too many cooks” in
    the kitchen, the “secret recipe” will surely leak out.

    so cory’s trying to trick the publishers into doing
    the very thing that will cause d.r.m. to fail quickly,
    the hook being they think it’s in their “best interests”.

    he’s a sneaky one, that cory. i gotta hand it to him. :+)


  3. Digital Strategist

    Well put bowerebird. Yes, I refuse to sell any content on non-DRM platforms. I won’t touch Stanza with a barge pole. So that excludes us from the much-touted iPhone.

    Meh. I’ll wait until June when Google Books start selling all our extensive ebook titles across most mobile devices including the iPhone.

    I demand our stuff is locked up. Otherwise I might as well stand outside our offices and shout “free books to all!” and give away our physical stock too.

    Not in our best interest? More than $40m in ebook sales over the last 3 years and between 20% and 40% growth year on year says it’s WELL in our interest.

    I love how people making a little money from digital content like to make radical claims which would essentially kill off the business models making the rest of us BAGloads of filthy lucre. Smacks of sour grapes.

  4. just in case it’s unclear, i’m opposed to d.r.m. philosophically.

    because unlocked books have proven to be a great thing for
    knowledge, and culture, and our progress as human beings.

    d.r.m. on books will soon be as toxic as a paywall on the web —
    for the same reason (because you’re outside the conversation)…

    in the meantime, if you’re able to turn a buck, good for you…

    in exposing cory’s maneuver, i wasn’t hoping to “disarm” it…
    the corporate dinosaurs work in a predictable kneejerk way.
    it’s a pure reflex response — there is no brainwork involved.
    that means you can discuss it at length, and it won’t change.
    it _can’t_ change… it’s stimulus-response, all hard-wired…

    the only silly thing about this is that we are all sitting around,
    waiting for the major publishers to “come on board” so we can
    get the digital publishing revolution underway. it’s as if we are
    blind to the fact that the digital publishing revolution will not
    involve the major publishers, it’ll be the thing that destroys ’em.
    so we sit around and do nothing while we wait for them. stupid.

    for a long time, this frustrated me, because it seemed that the
    “new wave” of talent that needed to emerge was used to lurking.
    the one-way broadcast modality of the past had conditioned us
    to be mere passive recipients for the corporate content cartel…

    the rise of blogs (self-centered entities that they might be) and
    “user-generated content” sites like youtube have now freed us
    — we now have an inkling of an idea about what we can do —
    and i’m hopeful a big explosion of new artists is soon at hand…


  5. Digital Strategist, I’d be interested to hear if you’ve experimented with non-DRM models, and if so, whether that influenced your strong DRM-only stance.

  6. And how do these new “artists” eat? And where do they live? And who pays for their healthcare?

    A hundred and fifty years of commercializing creative output for societies usage…erased by a few with server code and bankers money taken from the taxed middleclass that once included many commercial artists and creatives.


    This isnt about creative rights, its about the exploitation of creative properties being taken from one group and handed to another. Only the original group had a hundred years of IP laws made to balance the transactions made between creators and distributers and consumers. The new web2.0 group has no such laws to follow. Oh Cory’s law? I dont remember seeing that passed by elected reps, do you? But only a meme regurgited over and over by the same people who gave us 2 bubbles to “versionize”

    Lets all go use O’Reillys Hot tub.