DRM in Self-Publishing

Many times on Lulu, I see people who are ignorant of the computer world. Many traditional publishers are also ignorant of the computer world. However, this post is not about traditional publishers. This post about the self publishers. One such ignorant piece of thought is DRM.

What is DRM and what is its purpose? DRM stands for Digital Rights Management. Myself, and others, refer to it as Digital Restriction Management. The purpose of DRM is supposedly to prevent piracy, but in actuality, it limits what the user can do with their content, hence the replacement of Rights with Restriction. Most schemes do not allow sharing, since that is essentially what piracy is in the computer world. Some do things like limiting what programs can read the files, so you must use their software. There are also some that makes it hard for the seeing-impaired to utilize the files. All of this in the name of trying to prevent people from pirating work.

First, we will deal with limiting to what programs can read the file. This happens with almost every DRM scheme. Not all software can handle all DRM schemes. For example, books purchased via the iBookstore is most likely not able to be read to be read in say the Barnes & Noble Nook Apps, or even Adobe Digital Editions. Videos from iTunes cannot be played outside of Quicktime, iTunes, or Apple Frontrow. There are various other examples out there and this is the most simple part of DRM. So, let’s say for example that you want to read a book from Barnes & Noble that you purchased from their eBookstore in software like Calibre or Stanza. Chances are practically impossible because Calibre cannot read DRMed eBooks and Stanza probably does not support Barnes & Noble’s DRM. This means that you can only read it in Barnes & Noble’s application or device, unless you crack the DRM, which will be covered later. What if you don’t like the device or application? Tough luck, since this is what the content producers probably want anyway. Limiting what programs can read files is the simpest part of DRM.

Second, we will talk a bit about how it limits those with vision problems. While this is not a common occurrence, some publishers disable the ability of screen readers to read aloud to users. Now, I have pretty good vision for reading both print and electronic works, but obviously there are people that do not, otherwise screen readers would not exist, or even a text-to-speech feature. Are you tell me that all your target audience of your work has perfect or decent vision? That is the dumbest thing I ever heard or found to be implied by this action. Luckily, the US library of congress, agrees with my statement by saying it is legal to crack DRM on eBooks that do such, provided there is not a copy that does allow such features. People with vision problems are almost always a portion of any targeted audience.

Finally, we will talk about sharing. In the computer world, sharing is essentially sending somebody a copy of a file. On the other hand, in real life, sharing something means that one no longer has possession of the object. Many people understand this already, which is why publishers of any kind of content want to limit or disallow sharing of files. However, this is technically an impossibility. It’s impossible because anything man made is flawed and everything dealing with computers is flawed. There are numerous tools and techniques to crack DRM, which gives the user back the ability to share the file. For example, if one were to search for a way to crack Barnes & Noble’s eBook DRM, they would most likely find a set of Python scripts to do it. The same can be said for eBooks protected via the ADEPT scheme from Adobe. The government can crack into recordings of cell phone calls and various other things. For writers, sharing files is an important tool because it lets us get our work out there. Authors who self publish are the ones to most benefit from the exposure of sharing. Also, many sources around the net all agree that even if the file was DRMed, one can go find a physical copy and transfer it to a computer, like scanning pages of a book or ripping CDs, thus preventing sharing really does nothing to discourage sharing to those who really desire to pirate a file. Piracy cannot be prevented by not allowing sharing.

Is it really worth it to use DRM? No, especially if you self publish, which this post is supposed to be directed towards. Many works by self publishers are less than $4.00 in electronic format and do not often exceed $6.00. Of course, the self publisher sets the price, but at less than $5.00, I do not really see that many people pirating a work. In addition, self published authors are not well-known enough to be victims of eBook piracy. Most of the time, authors who are victims of piracy are names like J.K. Rowling, Stephen King, and John Grisham. Those authors generate a whole lot of money on their names alone. Because of this, it is pretty much doing a favor for the person who self published, instead of hurting them. After all, it seems that self publishers do not make a whole lot of sales, compared to the big names of those in traditional publishing. Then again, O’ Reilly and Baen have shown evidence that the rate of eBook piracy has not really damaged them, even though they are completely DRM free. Even though a sale was lost on one copy of an eBook, another person may purchase a copy of the work from the exposure. Piracy has no real damage to unknown writers.

Overall, DRM is even more a pointless endeavor for self publishers than it is for traditional publishers. Piracy actually helps create exposure for self publisher or any other unknown writers. DRM limits how and where files can be used, instead of preventing piracy.

what is your opinion on this subject? Are people really ignorant towards how piracy works? Does their greed blind them to the truth? Feel free to comment.

Copyright © 2011 Bryce Campbell. All Rights Reserved.