What is DRM? Why does is exists, and what is the big deal? Some consider it a non-issue and others have been poisoned by the wide-spread lie. What is this lie? What is the truth? Why do I not support DRM? Regular readers of my reviews will know that I have developed a fairly concise and straight-forward reviewing scheme that I like to call “The Good, The Bad, and Conclusion.” Based on this I bring to you “The Lie, The Truth, and Conclusion.”
DRM stands for “Digital Rights Management.” It is supposedly a way to “manage” the rights of the author’s work. Authors and readers alike and told that DRM helps prevent piracy of their content. It is put in place to keep the rights of a book (or any work of art) in the author’s hands, so they get the money that they deserve. “Some content providers claim that DRM is necessary to fight copyright infringement on-line and that it can help the copyright holder maintain artistic control or ensure continued revenue streams. Proponents argue that digital locks should be considered necessary to prevent ‘intellectual property’ from being copied freely, just as physical locks are needed to prevent personal property from being stolen.” (Wikipedia) This sounds awesome! Why wouldn’t you want DRM? It protects your rights… or does it.
Like any good lie, it is a partial truth. In order to sell someone on a lie, you must make it look good. No one will fall for a lie if it isn’t believable. That lock analogy even makes sense! The question is, who do the locks belong to? Who has the keys, and why are they locking up your content. Whether you distribute your book through Amazon, Kobo, B&N, iBooks, they all have their own version of DRM. They hold the lock and the key, not you as the author. If I want to get into my house, I use my key to get access to my stuff that is in the house. Logic would follow that if it is my book… shouldn’t it also be my key?
When you purchase a book with DRM (From Kobo, Amazon, etc.) you are only allowed to read that file on a dedicated product. For instance, if I buy a DRMed book on Amazon and don’t own a Kindle, the only way I can read it is by installing a kindle App on my desktop or my phone. Each Kindle App has to be verified and synced with your Amazon account in order to operate. This mean that A) my Kobo Reader is now useless to me for reading that book, B) what if I am going on a trip without my desktop computer and I want to keep reading the book? I will have to either A) install a Kindle proprietary app on my phone and read the book on that tiny little screen (gross) or B) simply go without until I get home again. Then I might as well just bring my Kobo Ereader along and read a different book… Another option would be to go out and buy a kindle… but who has the money for that. Also, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to own 2 E-readers just to be able to read a .99 cent book you purchased.
The second problem with this is that every Kindle product has to be linked with and synced to your Amazon account. This means that Amazon has complete control over the books in your account and can do anything they want with them. “In one instance of DRM that caused a rift with consumers, Amazon.com remotely deleted purchased copies of George Orwell‘s Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm from customers’ Amazon Kindles.” (Wikipedia) This is like giving the key to your house to someone else and having them open your house for you when you need access. This works fine, in theory, but can the key-holder be trusted?
DRM does not help the author or the reader but in fact helps the distributor: they key holder. This is the truth. Because Amazon is the big dog when it comes to Ebooks, many people have their stuff primarily or exclusively up there. This makes sense because that’s where the readers are (mostly) but the DRM is where it helps out Amazon and takes away from potential author profit and reader enjoyment. I will not purchase something with DRM for the above reasons, and so if a book has DRM, you are automatically losing a sale. The presence of DRM forces me to go out and buy a Kindle which I don’t want or need, and all of that money goes directly to Amazon so that I can purchase more Amazon exclusive books, which at that point helps the author… but which is more expensive, a book or an Ereader? DRM is a marketing scheme that the distributor (whether Kobo, Amazon, etc.) employs in order to make more money. As Coroy Doctorow puts it “This (DRM) is as if Indigo can print their books with special ink that would only be readable under Indigo’s light-bulbs. Indigo might have lovely stores, they might be very stylish, their CEO might come out in a turtle-neck twice a year and show you their awesome products, and their light-bulbs might be very reasonably priced, but I think most of us can still agree that Indigo… nobody should own the exclusive lights under which our books can be read.” (As seen at Writer’s Festival 2009)
If I buy a book, I want to be able to do with it what I would do with a regular paper book (take it on a trip, loan it to a friend, throw it in a lake… wait, I don’t throw books into lakes! How absurd!) DRM essentially takes the power out of my hands and I can no longer choose to do what I want to do with a legally purchased product. If Amazon was a book-lenders service (like a library) that would make sense. Libraries have certain rules about the dos and don’ts of the books you borrow (like don’t throw them into lakes…) and I respect that because I don’t own the book. If I buy a book I should then own it and thus be aloud to do what I want with it.
Okay, so DRM gets in the way of the legitimate reader. What about this piracy thing? People who are interested in thievery have no problems with DRM and it hinders them in no way. DRM can easily be taken out. Now, taking out the DRM is in fact illegal… but why would a thief care about that? Books are still found on torrent sites everywhere and DRM does nothing to stop this, but instead stops legitimate readers from doing legitimate things with them. (Sidebar: In fact in Canada at the moment it is more illegal to pirate content then to break DRM. This means that if I pirate a book I would be slapped with a fine, but if I break the DRM on a legitimately purchased book just to use it in legitimate ways, I would go to jail.) Often times, even if a book has DRM at the distributor, there is the temptation to just pirate it because it makes things easier. No stolen copies have the DRM, and if that is what you are looking for as a reader, you may be turned off by the presence of DRM, knowing it will put unwelcome and unwarranted restrictions on you. I can’t say it any better than the Free Software Foundation. “…the use of the word ‘rights’ is misleading and suggest that people instead use the term digital restrictions management.” (Wikipedia)
Putting DRM on a book does not reduce piracy, and in fact may even encourage it. It is a distributor marketing scheme that does not help authors or readers, but in fact hinders fair use of a legally purchased product. True thievery should be dealt with on its own level, but by locking a book with DRM, that is putting out the assumption that the readers are thieves. Why would I want to buy from a store (or author) that makes me feel like a thief? “DRM is like walking into a store and the manager slaps you across the face screaming, ‘You’re a thief! … Now how can I help you?’ ” (source anonymous) If you want to buy an e-book and not simply borrow it from the distributor, only buy DRM-free.