Digital Rights Management

Adobe Unsafely Gathering eBook Readers' Data (via @digibookworld)

Well we all know my stance on DRM, and because DRM needs a server somewhere to check that you're not a criminal for buying legal content, it also allows the DRM provider (in this case Adobe) to do whatever it feels like, really. From the article:

Adobe confirms some details of recent reports by The Digital Reader and Ars Technica that Adobe Digital Editions 4, the latest version of the widely used ebook platform, is gathering extensive data on its users’ ebook reading habits.

According Nate Hoffelder at The Digital Reader, “Adobe is gathering data on the ebooks that have been opened, which pages were read, and in what order.”

But that's ok, your private informatio is being passed back across the internet, totally unencrypted:

Adobe acknowledges that transmitting unencrypted data could pose a security risk: “In terms of the transmission of the data collected, Adobe is in the process of working on an update to address this issue.” Adobe says further that more information on when that update will be in place and of what it will consist is forthcoming.


Y'know, because securely passing your victims' usage data wasn't a top priority when this system was put in place years ago, apparently.

I guess it's not an issue unless you read the same sex scene in Plains of Passage over and over again, and who would do that, right?

Once again, the only 'customers' not adversely affected by DRM are the pirates.

Read it here:

Why I Canceled My Amazon Prime Account (Following Amazon's Spamming of My Inbox) (via @HuffPostBooks, HT: @katengh)

I almost don't have to add any commentary to this, because I also have cranky-faced opinions about Amazon, mostly revolving around their DRM and author-exclusivity contracts, neither of which are of any benefit to anyone except Amazon's attempts to become a publishing monopsony. Brooke Warner says:

For those of you who follow publishing news, or who are KDP authors, you know that on August 9, Amazon sent a very bizarre email to all of its KDP customers, which has been dissected best, in my opinion, here and here.

You can read the full email here, but this post is really about why I canceled my Amazon Prime account the next day.

Read her account and reasoning here:

Adobe to Require New Epub DRM in July, Expects to Abandon Existing Users (via @TomRennie, HT: Tim_Coronel)

The article should be titled, 'Adobe tells Readers to Eat Shit and Die'.

The tl;dr version is that Adobe is going to start pushing for ebook vendors to provide support for [their] new DRM in March, and when July rolls Adobe is going to force the ebook vendors to stop supporting [their] older DRM. (Hadrien GardeurPaul Durrant, and Martyn Daniels concur on this interpretation.)

Look, I'm known for my resistance to DRM, so I am really not trying to say, 'I told you so', but I fucking well told you so. DRM is a failure for everyone except the companies selling the DRM tools and here is just more evidence.

One thing Adobe seems to have missed is that there are tens of millions of ebook readers on the market that support the older DRM but will probably never be upgraded to the new DRM. Sony and Pocketbook, for example, have released a number of models over the past 5 or so years, most of which have since been discontinued.

Your lesson today is: just stop buying DRM'd ebooks. Yes, this is a problem if you buy from Amazon and iTunes. Tough. Fucking. Shit.

Just stop it. Stop it and they will eventually stop, too.

Read it and weep:

How Copyright Made Mid-Century Books Vanish (via @theatlantic, HT: jenny8lee)

I believe there are serious problems with modern copyright laws, problems that have been exacerbated by an inability to keep legislation up to date with modern technology. This report by Rebecca Rosen, however, discusses another effect of copyright:

[Paul J. Heald at the University of Illinois] has now finalized his research [...]: "Copyright correlates significantly with the disappearance of works rather than with their availability," Heald writes. "Shortly after works are created and proprietized, they tend to disappear from public view only to reappear in significantly increased numbers when they fall into the public domain and lose their owners."

Read the whole article here, it's quite interesting (and disappointing and not entirely surprising):

And while we're on the topic, here is a discussion from the Columbia Journalism Review about whether copyright law works at all, with an interesting research finding:

In one experiment, [a] group of subjects write three-line haikus, to be entered in a contest with a prize of $50. These authors had the option of selling their poems (and the chance to win $50) to another group, the bidders. Both the authors and the bidders were asked to value how much a particular haiku was worth.

It turned out that, perhaps not surprisingly, the creators of these tiny works of art valued them more than the people who were thinking of buying them. “Our data revealed that Authors valued their work more than twice as high as Bidders ($20.05 versus $9.21),” Buccafusco and Sprigman wrote.

That doesn't surprise me at all, especially when we look at early eBook prices compared to what readers said they would pay for them.

The takeaway, for Buccafusco and Sprigman, is that markets for creative work are not nearly as efficient as IP law assumes—and that the argument that more protection is needed to ensure innovation might not be quite right. “The work I do with Chris suggests that we don’t know as much about IP as we think we do,” says Sprigman. “It’s been a faith-based policy for a long time. A lot of people in my field are trying to uncover what IP laws actually do and what they don’t.”

The takeaway for me is summarised here:

Part of what empirical research can show is how finer-tuned laws might work better. Not all creative industries work the same way—making a major motion picture requires more up-front investment than writing a poem; computer software might have a shorter shelf-life than a bestselling book.

Read that article in full here:

Piracy News (on account of International Talk Like a Pirate Day) (via @torrentfreak, HT: @idealaw)

A piratical link for you today. Warner Bros (back in June) said that pirates showed them what consumers want. No surprises there, really.

“Generally speaking, we view piracy as a proxy of consumer demand,” Kaplan notes.

“Accordingly, enforcement related efforts are balanced with looking at ways to adjust or develop business models to take advantage of that demand by offering fans what they are looking for when they are looking for it.”

The above shows that Warner Bros. has started to treat movie pirates as a market signal and an indication that legal offerings are not yet up to par. Or to put it differently, the movie studio believes that they can beat piracy by competing with it and providing a better user experience.

The book industry seems to be adapting much more rapidly to the notion that legal, easy and affordable access to content is the solution to unauthorised content sharing. Having said that, the indisputable market leader Amazon is increasingly putting exclusivity constraints on its new services. For readers who don't want to buy into Amazon's service (eg. me) this creates an artificial market demand, which is always met through piracy. Until it becomes possible to buy content in the format you need, piracy will continue to be a problem.

Read the original article here:

DRM = Discrimination (via @visfic, HT: @stuffedO)

The good news is that modern technology helps readers with a vision disability:

Luckily, we live in an era of technology where the world of literature should be easily accessible. People are able to read electronic text with the assistance of text-to-speech technology. This is a pretty basic aspect of life with a print disability in the 21st century. There are many varied programs available from those on your desktop or laptop, to your mp3 player and phone. These programs fit a range of needs and the world of reading is at everyone’s fingertips. Thank goodness we live in the future.

As you've guessed from the title, though, restrictive anti-consumer media locks hurt these readers the most.

The vast majority of ebooks available for purchase, however, have DRM enabled. Amazon is the biggest culprit and disappointment in my life. There are so many books now available in electronic format taunting me from the Amazon store.

Do read on here:

DRM for e-books - Repeating history instead of learning from it (via @MyFDL)

Look. It's possible that I will never stop yelling at people about how DRM is expensive and doesn't work, which is basically the business definition of 'waste of time'. Until that time, I will continue to present you with evidence. User 'danps' (sorry, I tried but couldn't easily find any more attribution information), discusses how the publishing industry seemingly hasn't learned anything from other media industries (this argument extends to the movie industry too, but that's the same argument for another day):

Listeners hated DRM because it restricted their ability to enjoy the music they paid for. Towards the end of the last decade businesses began to realize that DRM could be a headache for them as well, so eventually they wised up. By the end of 2011 all the major music stores were DRM free.

Short version: It was a hassle and there were some growing pains, but in the end the industry figured out how to deliver its product in a way consumers were happy to pay for. Lessons learned, all’s well, hooray!


The lessons haven’t been learned as widely as some of us hoped; the book industry seems to have spent the last fifteen years in a state of suspended animation. It is in the process of making exactly the same kinds of mistakes the music industry was making a decade ago.

Danps describes his recent experience with a Barry Eisler sale on Amazon and comments:

The book industry isn’t there yet; it’s at odds with its customers. Readers want to be able to read the books they buy, publishers want locked down exclusives, and creators (even forward thinking ones like Eisler) are left to navigate those waters as best they can.

Read the rest here:

Tor's DRM-free ebook experiment, one year later (HT: @nztaylor)

Tor kicked the expensive, unworkable DRM locks off their digital books just over a year ago:

For our particular readership, we felt it was an essential and fair move. The genre community is close-knit, with a huge on-line presence, and with publishers, authors and fans having closer communication than perhaps some other areas of publishing do. Having been in direct contact with our readers, we were aware of how frustrated many of them were by DRM. Our authors had also expressed concerns at the restrictions imposed by the copyright coding applied to their ebooks. When both authors and readers are talking from the same page, it makes sense for the publishers to sit up, listen and take note—and we did!

Have a read through to see what their customer and author responses were.

Read it here:

Kindle user claims Amazon deleted whole library without explanation (via @boingboing)

Whoops. Cory Doctorow writes:

If my conjecture about Linn's offense is correct, then she has not violated copyright, nor has she done anything that would upset a publisher. She's merely violated the thousands of words of impossible fine-print that comes with your Kindle, Nook, Kobo, and iPad, as have all of us. This fine print will always have a clause that says you are a mere tenant farmer of your books, and not their owner, and your right to carry around your "purchases" (which are really conditional licenses, despite misleading buttons labelled with words like "Buy this with one click" -- I suppose "Conditionally license this with one click" is deemed too cumbersome for a button) can be revoked without notice or explanation (or, notably, refund) at any time.


And here is the original article and series of emails from the affected user, via Martin Bekkelund:

PS: For the record, I never buy DRM'd files.

Avast ye scurvy dogs! Here be my answer to piracy (via @johnbirmingham)

This is a great and entertaining (as always) read from John Birmingham, about his e-book publishing direction, and his experience with piracy (back in the day of good old photocopier piracy). I don't usually post straight to the meat of a post (and you should still read the original) but here:

So. That’s my news. I’ve thrown my hands up and admitted defeat on DRM and pricing. I’m going to try give the punters what they say they want with ebooks.

It's almost the exact opposite approach to those businesses which are busy locking in exclusive distribution licenses with their overseas suppliers to make sure you keep paying the same price as you've always paid and have no option but to source whatever you’re after from one or two nominated suppliers.

John raises the valid (and sobering point) that readers don't care whether books are more expensive in Australia, despite often legitimate costs to local suppliers: the reality is they just see smaller $ figures and gravitate to those.

There is also a very valid reply by John in the comments. I know, I know: never read the comments on the internet. I make these sacrifices for you.

John points out that the publishers have done a very poor job, especially in recent times, of making authors and potential authors understand the amount of behind-the-scenes work that goes into getting a manuscript published. I'll just quote an excerpt  here:

Publishers have done themselves a disservice in this because by encouraging the cult of the author they obscure the critical role played by their own, anonymous employees. From cover artists to line editors and even marketing.

You know what makes a best seller?

Nine times out of ten it's the marketing spend.

Read and enjoy:

A Collection of DRM-is-Dying News

It's no secret that we don't like DRM here at Literarium. It doesn't prevent piracy, it imposes prohibitive costs on small publishers and it punishes honest customers. From this article, Note to Publishers: Your Addiction to DRM is Killing You:

When it comes to readers and book buyers, meanwhile, DRM has been nothing but a source of pain and frustration, just as it has been in every other content market, including digital music. Books from the Big Six can’t be loaned or borrowed, or they can only be loaned or borrowed a certain number of times. And they can only be used on one platform, with all kinds of restrictions. What these chains and locks do, more than anything else, is to make the simple act of buying and reading a digital book horrendously complicated. Does that make more people want to buy and read e-books? It’s hard to see how. In a very real sense, those locks are hobbling the industry.

Sure, this may not be visible to happy Kindle consumers, but since the Kindle explicitly refuses to accept the industry standard ePub format, which is how most independent and non-DRM eBooks are formatted, there is an automatic schism in the eBook world, where anyone selling an ePub only version of an ebook is unable to sell to Kindle users.

Similarly, innovation in the reading space, in particular social reading, is crippled because most new companies can't offer their services to DRM-locked books, as shown in this article about our complicated relationship with eBooks:

Theoretically, it should be easy to share not just books, but passages we like, and there are a number of startups and services like OpenMargin and Readmill and Findings that are trying to make this happen. But competing rights, standards and platforms mean these kinds of features are available on only a tiny fraction of books, and that keeps most readers inside their little reading silos.

Add into the mix a recent article from an anonymous publishing executive, 'Why I break DRM on e-books'. From that article:

I was coming to the conclusion that I wanted to start breaking DRM on e-books I bought so that I could read them on any e-reader, but what pushed me over the top was a terrific post from science-fiction author Charlie Stross, “Cutting their own throats.” He argues that DRM is a way for the Amazons of the world to create lock-in to their platforms.

Do click on Charlie Stross's article in that quote above, by the way, and his follow up post to that, which relates directly to this news from TOR/Forge: Macmillan’s Tor/Forge goes DRM-free:

“Our authors and readers have been asking for this for a long time,” said Tor/Forge president and publisher Tom Doherty. “They’re a technically sophisticated bunch, and DRM is a constant annoyance to them. It prevents them from using legitimately-purchased e-books in perfectly legal ways, like moving them from one kind of e-reader to another.”

All these articles together provide a solid hope that DRM is finally going into the wastebasket of publishing tech history (as it has already done for music and as it will hopefully do in the future for video).

Note, authors concerned about piracy need to read this article by John Scalzi, to reassure themselves that the publishers are still putting energy into shutting down big distributors of pirated material. He quotes Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Senior Editor of Tor Books:

Just in case anyone is worried: I can tell you with complete confidence that Macmillan and Tor/Forge have no intention of scaling back our anti-piracy efforts in the e-book realm. We expect to continue working to minimize this problem with all the tools at our disposal.

This is as it should be: the publishers, authors and consumers on the same side. For too long, consumers have been lumped into the same bucket as commercial copyright violaters.

Lloyd Shepherd: My parley with ebook pirates (via @guardianbooks)

Lloyd Shepherd discovered a request had been made to have his book pirated:

Many writers in my position, I know, have gone into a rage when their books are pirated – particularly those with no experience of the legal ways of the internet. How can it be, they yell, that these clowns are stealing my livelihood? And I felt some irritation, of course. But blind anger wasn't getting us anywhere, and here was an opportunity to ask this guy (in my head, he's a guy, although she may well not be) what he thought he was doing. I went on to the forum to put it to him.

The discussion is interesting. I don't necessarily agree with all the opinions that bubble up, but these discussions can be pretty volatile.

Read the outcome here:

Cutting Their Own Throat - on Publishers, Amazon and DRM (via @cstross)

Charles Stross writes a good article about the perils of DRM to publishers. We already know that DRM is a fundamentally anti-customer technology which doesn't work (he refers to it, accurately, as 'snake oil', but it's good to see that even on the other foot (that of the publisher desperate for the illusion of protection) it is a potential disaster:

As ebook sales mushroom, the Big Six's insistence on DRM has proven to be a hideous mistake. Rather than reducing piracy[*], it has locked customers in Amazon's walled garden, which in turn increases Amazon's leverage over publishers. And unlike pirated copies (which don't automatically represent lost sales) Amazon is a direct revenue threat because Amazon are have no qualms about squeezing their suppliers — or trying to poach authors for their "direct" publishing channel by offering initially favourable terms. (Which will doubtless get a lot less favourable once the monopoly is secured ...)

Read it all here. His blog, in general, is a good source of interesting musing in the speculative fiction space. He says:

If the big six began selling ebooks without DRM, readers would at least be able to buy from other retailers and read their ebooks on whatever platform they wanted, thus eroding Amazon's monopoly position. But it's not clear that the folks in the boardrooms are agile enough to recognize the tar pit they've fallen into ...

DRM is funny [Comic]

This comic from the excellent XKCD site pretty much shows you why DRM is such a great idea...if you don't want people reading your work. Think about it, do we really want to erect barriers for potential readers? Could they, perhaps, go read someone else's work instead?

(For what it's worth, I don't like 'The Giving Tree' at all).

Let's just yell about piracy for a bit

I'm a member of various writing lists, and I variously see writers get their head in a tizzy about piracy. Now we all agree piracy isn't the best thing, but there really isn't any way to do anything about it which doesn't cost more time, effort and money than you are recovering.

I won't go into a long rant on the topic; this blog is not the place for that. However, Joe Konrath has a nice (now old, but still relevant) post that addresses all the common complaints.

The short version is: deal with it, there is no evidence that piracy harms sales.

Read it here. Worthwhile. Now stop worrying about piracy and get back to writing:

Why is Buying Ebooks so Hard In Australia (via @GretavdR)

Greta van der Rol vents her frustrations at buying ebooks in Australia. Unlike the US and UK markets, Australian publishers are still struggling to decide how to manage ebooks. Because of territorial distribution arrangements and DRM, what many customers expect will be a trivial exercise can turn into an exciting journey. Destination: frustration.

I love my e-reader. I have a kindle, so I can download from quite a few sites. I confess I do not understand why I can’t download books from Amazon UK or DE – but it’s their company, I suppose.

Read her rant in full here: