Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Digital Rights & Wrongs Mangement (DRM)

Dialogue about DRM is hot again. Steve Jobs came out against it … now everyone is jumping on the bandwagon. So, never one to be left out, I’m throwing in my 2 cents:

Look, here is the bottom line – DRM is a method of using technology to replace morality. It is the final hope of a paternalistic society that believes that people (known to them as consumers) are all simply wayward children who need to be guided (or forced) to do the right thing. The worry is that piracy will become epidemic if consumers are given access to a product that is easy to redistribute. That they will send copies of all of their copyrighted material to friends and strangers alike – mass mailing intellectual property to the whole universe, stripping it of it’s value as a consumer good.

I don’t believe this is an accurate depiction of the result if DRM were to be removed from eBooks… specifically eBooks – since that’s the only area where I really know much. Avid readers meet a kind of profile. If one can say that serial killers are usually white males between 30 & 45 years old… then one can sum up the average book reader too: They are smart, concerned and engaged citizens in our society – more often honorable than not. They have every intention of paying for the goods and services they receive and they are very reasonable about the right of authors or musicians or film makers or any other content producer to be compensated for the use of their property.

One case in point, recently a customer downloaded an eBook from our store. This was his first experience in purchasing an eBook. He first tried to download to his laptop at work, where he intended to read the book. He ran into some technical difficulty, than he figured out what the issues were on his desktop home computer and successfully downloaded the book. Only, the book was now tied to the device where he would have no opportunity to use it. And he had downloaded the book the maximum number of times allowed, once. Upon this revelation, he reached his threshold for tolerance of the trouble involved with downloading an eBook. This quote from him typified the reasonable attitude of most bibliophiles,

Writers certainly deserve to have their work protected, but this is too much aggravation. The person that pays for the book should have the right to read what they paid for.”

Only, the eBook wasn’t the problem – it never was. The DRM that restricted the movement of the book that he had paid for was the problem. As a content distributor it is not my choice how the eBooks will be secured. However, I can tell you that as a consumer, this kind of hog tying of the intellectual property that I have purchased for personal use offends me. If someone were to require that the only place I can read a paper book I have purchased is my living room, I’m likely to throw the book back at them, after lighting it aflame. Ok, maybe I wouldn’t get that violent, but I certainly wouldn’t buy anything from them again. A one download, one device DRM policy implemented by the publishers is likely to turn off a large number of potential eBook customers. Could that be the point of DRM?

Is the real reason for using Digital Rights Management to keep the status quo, to maintain the, “ink on dead trees,” publishing industry? Could it be control, not of the pirates, but the means of production? It is absolutely ABC simple to write an eBook, and to make that eBook available for sale on the internet. So could it be that while publishers and industry insiders are telling us that DRM is necessary and for the greater good, they are simply sewing up control of the digital marketplace? If they use DRM, and you want a viable & competitive product, do you have to use DRM too? If so, the ABC simplicity of producing and distributing your book online is quickly replaced by a technology laden process that must be turned over to experts and professionals.

I administer eBooksAboutEverything.com – where our eBooks are largely DRM restricted. I appreciate that yes, in fact, it is important to guard intellectual property from misuse. I only hope that as this dialogue unfolds, with figures like Jobs leading the way, that a more rational middle ground will be established… hey, I can dream.

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