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Abandoning DRM Is Good, But Not Good Enough


With the announcement that Tor and Macmillan will be the first major publisher to abandon DRM, we start to see the very same thing from publishing that we saw in music ages ago. See, music was dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century and music companies were forced to reexamine their business models. Now, while suing people seems to still be part of their business model, they’re not going after people who downloaded an MP3 album from Amazon and then dared to put it on both of their iPods.

While Wiley, well known for publishing the For Dummies series of books, is hell bent on following the fool hardy, and quite frankly, freakin’ stupid litigation model that’s done naught for stopping music and movie piracy, Macmillan’s tap-out here signals what should be the beginning of the end.

Big music learned this after years of losing millions to frivolous lawsuits against people they couldn’t even put names to. To this day, movie companies are suing John and Jane Does and Unknowns and losing in many cases because they still cannot prove who was behind the keyboard of a computer that may or may not have been downloading something in a manner that may or may not be illegal. Litigation aside, DRM doesn’t do anything it’s supposed to do.

Does it protect the so-called rights holders? No.

Does it protect the artists? No.

Does it assure that customers have the best experience when they buy or use a service protected by DRM? No.

Does it provide a method of thwarting piracy? No. Even if a method of DRM does thwart piracy, it’s incredibly short lived. Most DRM seems to be cracked within a week, if it even takes that long.

All DRM has ever done is hurt the consumer, the ones who actually pay for the content. If DRM were effective, it’d make the content better for the paying customer and impossible for the pirate. As I just said, it doesn’t do any of those things.

Someone at Tor or Macmillan finally understood this and my hat is off to them. I will soon have the “luxury” of reading a Tor book on any device I want at any time that I want to do so.

But that’s not enough, and it’s not going far enough, and dammit as consumers and especially as librarians, we need to demand more.

I don’t mean we need to demand that all major publishing firms ditch the absurdity that is digital rights management. That should be a given. What we need to demand runs deeper than that and it runs right to the very core of their shortsighted and asinine business model.

We need to demand an end to this licensing nonsense.

When you bought a book, you own it. You own all of it. You can do whatever you want with it. You can read it, sell it, give it to a friend, commit a capital crime with it, whatever. It’s your book because you bought it. Problem is, that’s not how it works with eContent. You haven’t bought an eBook, you’ve purchased a license to use the content of the eBook in a manner agreed upon by you and the content provider.


Folks, I just wrote that damn sentence and even I don’t understand it. I bought what now? A license? But I have licenses. See, I have a driver’s license right here. I have an old concealed carry license here. Oh look! Here’s a fishing license! I should go snag something out of the lake soon. And you know what’s odd about all those licenses compared to the “license” I obtained when I “bought” the eBook?

They all have my signature on them.

I paid money for all of these licenses, including the eBook license. All of them have my name on them and my signature which verifies that I have the license, that I understand the terms and use of the license, I understand what the license means, and it marks the license as mine and no one else’s.

Except for the eBook license. It doesn’t have my signature. I can’t hold it. I don’t have a hardcopy of it. Heck, I don’t even have an eBook license that bears my name. I’ve got nothing. So what license did I buy?

Chances are, you're reading this caption in my voice. ~Inigo Montoya

I didn’t buy one at all. I bought an eBook, not a license. In the end, what I’m saying is that “licensing” eBooks isn’t really licensing. As Inigo Montoya once said, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” So if it’s not licensing, what is it?

Simple, it’s a scam.

It needs to stop. Scamming people and libraries with these “licenses” isn’t helping anyone, not the publishers, not the purchasers. No one is protected by them because, as we’ve seen, they’re broken trivially, in seconds. No one is making money off them. Worse yet, no one is benefiting from the content, and if no one is benefiting, what’s the good?

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