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Open question: How is your publishing organization addressing DRM?

If DRM's impact on piracy is negligible, what's its real purpose?

questionmarkLast week in an interview with Brian O’Leary about the current state of piracy in the book industry, the subject of digital rights management (DRM) and its relationship to piracy came up. Brian said:

I’m pretty adamant on DRM: It has no impact whatsoever on piracy. Any good pirate can strip DRM in a matter of seconds to minutes … DRM is really only useful for keeping people who otherwise might have shared a copy of a book from doing so.

To be clear, Brian wasn’t saying he’s against DRM — he actually didn’t state his opinion about it at all, other than to note that DRM is a useless tool against piracy.

Mike Shatzkin responded to Brian’s interview, agreeing that DRM isn’t an effective tool to prevent piracy, but that it is important because it prevents casual sharing. He wrote:

I do think DRM prevents “casual sharing” (it sure stops me; and I think most people are more like me than they are like my friends who break DRM for sport) and I believe — based on faith, not on data — that enabling casual sharing would do real damage to ebook sales with the greatest damage to the biggest books.

A piece from Wired further muddied the DRM waters by showing how almost anyone can strip book DRM in a few short steps.

All of this leads me to a couple questions:

  • What fears, concerns, and issues do publishers hope DRM can address? Piracy? Sharing? Something else?
  • Is DRM is a long-term solution?
  • If you work for a publisher, how is your organization using DRM?

Please share your thoughts in the comments area.

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Comments: 8

  1. Interesting – seems that Mr Shatzkin is in the process of moving the goal posts. From the “Piracy is a major threat to the epublishing business” message to “casual sharing is a major threat…”

    If piracy is practical – and from your links above it appears both commentators accept that it is – what’s to stop anyone from getting pirated material and sharing *that*?

    Seems to me to be disingenious at best.

  2. Of course ‘DRM prevents casual sharing’.

    Specially it prevents casual sharing of content with yourself. Like when you want to watch or listen to the content somewhere else, on some other device.

    The worse: Even if you don’t want it for any illegal use, a copy with DRM is less valuable than a copy without it.

    Conclusion: I’d rather pay the guys who pirate the content than the orginal content providers because they (pirates) deliver a more valuable and useful product.

  3. The big commercial publishers think that DRM will reduce piracy and increase sales. The question is, why do they think that? As far as I can see it just increases their costs and annoys their customers, reducing profits and sales. (e.g. Adobe DRM costs publishers $0.22 per ebook sold, and that’s neglecting capital costs of the software.)

    DRM simply doesn’t work to prevent piracy. It’s not even a short-term solution.

    Durrant Publishing avoids using DRM wherever possible.

  4. No, I’m sorry, DRM doesn’t prevent even casual sharing. Casual “wantz!” are answered with casual google searches that always end with the casual “here’s the content you want, DRM-free and cost-free, even if not legal, in less than one minute”. Want more casual than that?

  5. A U.K. publisher I’m friends with uses what, tongue in cheek, we styled “social DRM”.

    To discourage frivolous sharing, they put a bookplate inside the front cover, with the owner’s name and optional email address. It serves the same purpose as a printed bookplate: it tells a reader whose book it is.

    You can remove it, of course, but you have to make a conscious decision to do so, which discourages thoughtless sharing.

    Best of all, it neither prevents you from really loaning it to someone who will return it, nor prevents you from shifting it to some other device you own.


  6. Why are publishers clinging to DRM? Because they’re afraid that without it, there’s no easy way to share the costs of development fairly and evenly. Only a few suckers will pay if the pirate leeches that Jose Reyero celebrates is able to resell content without paying the original creators.

    It’s pretty clear that the real future is creating some kind of turnstyle that effectively forces people to share the cost of development and then calling it anything but DRM. O’Reilly’s solution seems to be to hold outrageously expensive conferences and use those to fund the rest of the enterprise. That’s not a bad solution, but it’s not as green or as handicapped friendly as using DRM to lock down a video stream.

    The real power of publication is to allow a large group of people to share the development costs of content. When I can spend $10 to watch a movie that cost $100 million to make, that’s a very good deal. Piracy breaks this model by encouraging free riders. If free riding becomes too common and popular, the entire model collapses because no one wants to spend $100m to watch a movie while the rest of the world pirates it for free.

    Unfortunately “sharing” content with everyone via twitter or Facebook also breaks the model because it encourages n-1 to free ride while forcing 1 person to pay for the content. So I’m afraid there’s no way to have “sharing” if “sharing” means giving free copies to your 10,000 closest friends. If we define “sharing” to mean loaning a digital copy and losing access yourself, well, maybe that will work. But the freetards will see this as some insult to their cherished Internet ethics and reject it alas.

  7. I’m perfectly happy to be held accountable, but completely unwilling to be restricted. Published that inject the purchaser’s identity either in the visible content or the metadata get my ebook business.

    Devices change, formats change, the platforms I use and where I want to access content all change. I have the tools I want for organizing and annotating my reading material; simply provide the content in a usable format!

    Restrictive DRM blocks legitimate uses, is interference with the free market, and undermines any sense of “ownership” a purchaser might imagine they have.

    Unauthorized, persistent distribution of ebooks (or anything else) represents an unmet market demand: people who want the content but either can not or will no pay the asking price.

    Unfortunately, DRM distorts the market so that rather than charging “whatever the market will bear”, publishers support old-economy business model by trying to charge “whatever the rightsholder demands”.

    O’Reilly, APress, and others that provide ebooks in multiple formats, without DRM, but with an accountability measure are getting 100% of my business and will continue to do so.

    Conversely, I have resisted purchasing ebooks that are locked-in and have informed my friends, family, co-workers, and publishers’ representatives that I no longer want hardcover books.

    I have refused to review books for possible adoption in classes I teach when the book is not available in a DRM-free electronic format. I have neither the time to wait for hard copies to arrive nor the shelf space to house them.

  8. The problem with expecting it to stop casual sharing is that it’s so intrusive that casual users are forced to strip it just to use the device they own. For instance, I was called on to help a friend of my mother’s, who’d purchased a “Works on Anything” ebook from Barnes & Noble. It didn’t, in fact, work on anything, so I helped her strip the DRM since B&N declined to refund her money, even as a credit.

    After that treatment, and with an unencumbered file, I have no doubt that she felt perfectly justified in casual sharing. Which, I might add, doesn’t seem to have destroyed the paperback industry, which these little old ladies also swap regularly.