Saturday, May 28, 2011

DRM: Bane of existence? Or necessary evil?

I've heard a lot of complaints about DRM (digital rights management), and I wanted to address some of the complaints here. DRM tends to be a very touchy subject for people, much like airport check-in or homeland security (neither of which I understand the complaints about). So I wouldn't be surprised if this earns me a few nasty comments, but oh well. To each his own.

First, what is DRM? According to the Wiki article, it is access control technologies that are used by hardware manufacturers, publishers, copyright holders and individuals to limit the use of digital content and devices. The term is used to describe any technology that inhibits use of digital content that is not desired or intended by the content provider.

Now, there are pros and cons to DRM. And everyone, including indie authors, are split on whether it's a good thing or a bad thing. Personally, I use it because I prefer to think it gives me a modicum of protection. Sure, it's not going to stop anyone really intent on pirating my work, but it will stop someone who may think that buying a book for $3 gives them the right to make as many copies of it as they wish and hand it out to people willy nilly. And for those who claim this will not happen, take a look at videos and music.  Both are copied and distributed constantly, by people who do not think they're doing anything wrong. And I don't think all pirates even realize they're pirates. They're just sharing with their friends. They don't realize how they're hurting the artist.

Complaint 1: Lending
This is a valid complaint, and one I fully agree with. DRM hinders the ability to lend a book to a friend. On the Kindle, as of right now, a book can be lent for 14 days. While that book is being lent, it is effectively locked on the owner's Kindle, making it impossible for the owner to read the book until the 14-day period expires. I like this. It's just like a paperback book. When you let a friend borrow a DTB, that book is out of your possession until they return it. You can't read it, and neither can anyone else. You can only loan it to one person at a time. The problem with the current ebook lending system on the Kindle (my self-pub method of choice), as I understand it, is that you can only use the lending feature once per book. That needs to be changed.

The lack of a useful lending system harms both the readers and the authors. I've discovered many an author through borrowing a book from a friend or the library. Some examples are Christopher Moore, Deborah Chester, J. K. Rowling, George R. R. Martin, and countless others. Falling in love with the first book I read then enticed me to go purchase the rest, so I could own them and read them all whenever I chose to. Lending plays an important part in building an author's fan base, and limiting it so severely only hurts. It doesn't help.

However, removing the DRM completely hurts the author, as well. When an ebook without DRM is "lent", the original buyer keeps a copy on their machine. So does the borrower. Neither will lose the book at any point unless they delete it, so there is no incentive for the borrower to go purchase the book. Hopefully, they'll enjoy it enough to want to support the author, but from my experience, this is more often not the case.

Complaint 2: Enabling certain features, like text-to-speech and font change 
Another valid complaint. With Amazon's 70% deal, it is required to enable the text-to-speech and font change options. Some authors choose to not allow this, though. While I can understand some minor concern over the text-to-speech feature being used to pirate, I think the benefit outweighs the disadvantage. Text-to-speech is a very useful feature and can increase the reader base. Someone may have a hard time seeing, and using the larger font or text will enable them to read your book, whereas before, that wouldn't have been an option. It's also extremely convenient to turn on the text-to-speech feature and continue listening to a book when you would be unable to read it.

Complaint 3: Sharing across multiple platforms
This is where things start to get a little fuzzy. I can understand the desire to want to put an ebook wherever you may wish to read it. With the Kindle apps, most of the time this isn't an issue. You have the Kindle, Kindle for PC, Kindle for Mac, Kindle for iPad/iPhone, Kindle for Blackberry... you get the idea. I don't understand the need to have multiple e-readers, but again, to each his own. I know some people are very into gadgets. But there is something very important that I'd like to point out. Most people think that when you buy an e-book, you're buying the book itself. That's not true. You are buying the edition specific to the site you purchased the e-book from. For example, Smashwords requires the phrase "Smashwords Edition" on all their copies. Smashwords also doesn't use DRM, but that's beside the point. Now let's go look at the Kindle store.
If you'll notice, the format is "Kindle Edition", not "E-book". You are purchasing the e-book that is specific to the Kindle. Now let's take a look back at our DRM definition:  
 inhibits uses of digital content that is not desired or intended by the content provider.
 That means that if you purchase an e-book from the Kindle store, it is for use on the Kindle software and hardware. It doesn't mean you can use it on any platform you choose. Yes, this can be irritating in some cases, say, if you have three different e-readers, but complaining about not being able to read a $1 book you purchased from Amazon on your Nook is a bit of a stretch, in my opinion. Amazon wants you to use their reader, and that intent should be obvious to anyone the moment you open up the Amazon site.

Complaint 4: I bought it; I should be able to do what I want with it.
This seems to be the most common argument, and honestly, it's absolute crap. No, you shouldn't be able to do with it as you please. You purchased the ability to read the book. You don't own the content. Making copies for all your friends and family (like you do with music and movies) is not acceptable. When an author writes a book, or a songwriter writes a song, or a screenwriter writes a play, they're putting a lot of hard work into it. Stealing that piece of art (and that's exactly what it is--stealing), is illegal, plain and simple. And complaining that it shouldn't be is ridiculous. When you buy a physical book, you don't go out and photocopy each page, do you? If you do, well, you're probably seething by this point and planning how to flame me anyway. So next time you complain about not being able to do with you want with an e-book, think to yourself Would I be able to do this with a physical book? If the answer is no, then you should really rethink your complaint. Just because ebooks are easier to use and copy, it doesn't mean you have an inherent right to do that.

Long story short, DRM, if implemented properly, can protect both the readers and the authors. As of right now, it doesn't prevent piracy and everyone seems to think it's ok to do what they please with a piece of writing (or music, or video) that they've purchased. DRM needs a major revamp to make it effective and perform the purpose it's meant to perform, and pirates need to be punished more often and stronger.

Until then, I will be using DRM on all my works. People may call me greedy for not wanting my work distributed without my consent. I say that those who feel they are entitled to free content are greedy. In today's society, we seem to have an overdeveloped sense of entitlement. There are lots of freebies out there, thanks to many, many wonderful people. But that doesn't mean that everything should be free. Be thankful for the freebies, and respect those who choose to charge for their hard work.

If you encounter a problem with one of my books that you have purchased, please contact me. I will happily work with honest consumers to solve any issues that may arise because of my choice to protect myself.


  1. Hi friends,

    Nice blog! DRM software often provides numerous controls such as expiration, revocation, and watermarking, thus allowing organizations to overcome the risks of compromising their electronic communication and digital distribution. Thanks for all your hard work and the info you give.

    Secured PDF File

  2. A rather nasty issue of DRM is that if Amazon decides to lock your account (perhaps someone was trying to hack it), then you will not be able to read the books you paid for.

    This is equivalent in the printed book sense of giving permission to Amazon to remove your books from your bookshelves when they wish, not when you wish.


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