Tuesday, June 19, 2012

This screed is cross-posted from Amanda's digital publishing workshop email list...


In my message from my phone this past weekend, I asked anyone interested in my position on DRM to consider first reading Macaulay on Copyright. Anyone wanting to have a reasoned discussion on DRM has to start from a position on Copyright, and mine is little different than Thomas Babington Macaulay's.  Yes, it's from 1841, but honestly, there's little reasoning that changes from those two speeches.   Read them.  http://www.baen.com/library/palaver4.htm
Having said that, and assuming that you are informed on the subject of the history of copyright, then we can rationally move to DRM. 
Copyright didn't exist at all until the rise of the printing press in europe in the 15th century lead to the Statue of Anne in 1710.  Prior to the rise of the printing press, copying books was painful enough that little attention was given to paying the author, the payment (if any) went to the scribe for the manual labor.  Authors either wrote because they wanted to, or because their patrons paid them to.

[[[EDIT: Stephanie Osborne (Google+) (blog) called me to task on that - see more recent post.]]

After printing made copying books cheap and easy, authors decided that they would like to make -more- than the printer would pay them for the first run of their books, or more than they got by selling the books of their own that they had printed.  The idea of intellectual property, that "I wrote this, and I should therefore have ownership of my words" dates from this period around 1700. It's very recent.  Copyright law then, requiring that printers pay authors for later editions of their work and that you can't just create a new edition of a book at will came into being.  Book makers over the next century and a half expended no small effort on the book equivalent of DRM, putting in watermarks on some pages, fancy covers and titles, listing the edition and the printing on the copyright page so that unauthorized editions could be identified, etc etc.
Perhaps the finest moment of the fight against print-only copy prevention happened on the night of the release of the final book of the Harry Potter series, where a team of people had stationed a van with high speed internet uplink outside the first bookstore to offer the book.   Copies were purchased by people stationed near the head of the line, they had their spines cut off, and were dropped into multiple high speed double sided scanners, uploaded to waiting servers, OCR'ed, assembled and posted.  The first unproofed scans were on-line within 20 minutes of the opening of sales, and a well-proofed edition was completed by a croud-sourced efforted in less than three hours.    Ultimately, for reading, if a human can see the print in order to read it, that print can be captured to a camera, ocr'ed and posted. Nothing that allows a human to read a book can prevent copying. 
The effort for copy protection entered the technology arena in the last quarter of the 1800's as audio recordings entered the mass market.  Each manufacturer originally hoped to lock the people using their record players to the recordings that THEY made so that they wouldn't lose any money by people buying records from someone else.  Records were made with different diameters, rotation speeds, needle widths, etc etc in a hopeless attempt to limit aftermarket sales to just their artists and titles.  Needless to say it didn't work, and the industry quickly settled in on the 70 RPM shellac single.  In the late 1940's the introduction of the LP and '45 threatened to re-open the war but cooler heads prevailed. 
Rights restrictions reappeared again with the rise of the VCR and the introduction of intentional errors into the data stream which would be recognized by recorders and the recorder would refuse to record signals which had the "do not record this" flag set. Some manufacturers produced equipment that stripped it or ignored it of course, professionals needed that to LEGALLY copy video.
Then, the rise of the CD lead to 'real' DRM.  CD manufacturers were scared of the ability of home users to not just copy the music on a cd, but to copy it perfectly, bit for bit.  Over the years, the CD and then the DVD industry introduced attempt after attempt to make CD's and DVD's uncopyable.  Each effort resulted in the cooresponding copy tool being posted in an escalating war which has not yet ended but in which the encryptors are doomed. As we said above, if you can see it, you can copy it. 
Recognizing then, that ultimately, DRM is pointless in terms of copy-protection, what possible benefit is there to DRM on ebooks posted by individuals who are self-publishing to Amazon, Barns and Noble and iBooks? 
Consider that SOME DRM systems are one-way trap doors even allowing the above, if you were silly enough to purchase a PDF encrypted using Adobe's "Content Server 3" technology, and did not strip the DRM off of it then, while the decryption servers were still running at Adobe, you're screwed.  Adobe no longer supports CS3, not even to allow conversion to Content Server 4 (AKA Adobe Digital Editions).  Adobe only allowed a nine month window (March-December 2009) for migration to Adobe Digital Editions after the Content Server 3 servers were discontinued. Now, there are no servers running which can provide keys for CS3 content and so no way to get the content "on to the screeen" so that it can be un-drm'ed.  Even Adobe can't read those PDF's any more. 
Of  course, if you buy an Adobe Digital Editions book now, and don't strip the DRM off of it, it's likely that this fate will follow you again whenever Adobe gets around to offering CS5....
What putting DRM on an ebook (or a music file) does for the consumer is prevent the consumer from moving the content from machine to machine, from format to format as time passes. It means that if you quit using your ipod for listening to music and use an android phone instead, you couldn't listen to your Apple DRM'ed music.  It makes the publisher look greedy and hateful.  It causes pain and inconvenience. 
The one thing it doesn't do is increase sales. Publishers of movies, records, cds and books keep thinking that DRM prevents people loaning the content to friends and that means that the friends "steal" the content instead of buying it.  Not true. 
If you give me a book that I am unwilling to go pay for, then I -might- get hooked and go buy all of the works by that author, and might go buy the first one too.  If you give me all of them, I -still- might go buy my own in order to give the author a payment for the enjoyment.  But if you can't loan me the book, or cd, or mp3 or whatever, then I am -not- going to go buy the one that I was unwilling to go buy in the first place.  I -already- wasn't going to buy it. 
A file loaned is not a sale lost.  The movie and music industries like to pretend it is, but it's not true. Publishers who assume that their customers are thieves will result in their customers ACTING like thieves.  That is,  if they can't copy their books or tunes to a new machine, if they can't loan a book or a tune to a friend, then they have a REASON to learn how to crack the drm, and how to find "free" pirated copies on line.  If your pricing is reasonable, if your value is good, then most people are not theives.  I prefer to act on that basis. 
Finally, all of the data we have suggests that in the special case of books, titles without DRM result in more income to the author than titles with DRM. 
In discussions with a handful of Baen authors who have titles published by Baen and by other publishers results in a clear outcome when you crunch the numbers.
Publishers who insist on DRM sell fewer copies.  Platforms (apple) which insists on DRM sell fewer copies.
We also know that "here kid, try it, the first one's free" works.  Posting the first book of a series freely to the net, and posting non-drm copies of the books at reasonable prices results in increased sales even of unrelated backlist titles.  The data is unarguable for SF authors. 
MIT's results for their coursware, O'Reilly's results for their tech books, etc are exactly the same.
Note:  I make no comment in this about WATERMARKING copies as opposed to copy-protection.  Watermarking individual copies so that you can know what copy got posted to a pirate site and can track the copyright infringer may well be a reasonable action since it in-no-way interferes with the process discussed above. 
But, back to my original conclusion.  From both the POV of the author/publisher and from the POV of the reader, DRM is evil, full stop. 
Do not do it. 
-_ Rick
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