In the case of e-books, Digital Rights Management (DRM) is a type of technology, also known as a digital lock, employed by publishers to control how an e-book is used after it has been purchased. But digital copy protection has been around in software and gaming circles for much longer than in the publishing industry, and it is from these sectors that the greatest criticisms, and lessons learnt, can be found.
Firstly, the point of DRM (and the benefits of using it) is to protect your e-book from unauthorised sharing, copying, or resale – in other words, it protects your copyright. Or does it?
According to critics who have been through the same issue in the gaming and other software industries, DRM is ridiculously easy to crack (i.e. hacking for negative purposes), and is also a target for crackers who enjoy the (albeit apparently slight) challenge of disabling a digital lock. The worse news, however, is that once the digital lock on your book has been cracked the file is usually made available outside of legitimate sales platforms, where downloads don’t count towards any bestseller lists or your bank account. It’s actually more effective to include a simple line of text in your book to encourage readers to ensure they have downloaded a legitimate copy.
Digital Rights Management also inconveniences many of your legitimate readers. It often restricts the device on which the book can be read, although it appears that this complaint has been heard, if not properly addressed yet. DRM activation sometimes affects whether the purchaser is legally entitled to create back up copies of an e-book or software. Some software users have discovered that they are required to re-purchase a licence to use the same software if they have a hard drive failure or buy a new computer, while others tell horror stories of DRM websites going offline, without warning and indefinitely, leaving customers unable to access software or other digital products they have purchased. Could what happened to Borders happen to Amazon or Barnes and Noble? Or Smashwords?
In the e-book world, DRM, in effect, means that someone purchases a licence to read your book; they don’t actually own the file that they save to their device or computer the way they would own a copy of a printed book. Licences can be revoked for whatever reason, or the platform or device the licence is tied to could become obsolete and readers could find their files corrupted or deleted without notice. Imagine building up an e-book library and then discovering that digital moths have eaten your books.
As with most things in life, the more complex you try to make something the more can go wrong. Ultimately authors (and publishers) will need to weigh up whether activating DRM is the right option for them, or whether they want to keep things simple and avoid DRM dramas.
What experiences have you had with DRM, as an author or as a reader? Tell us about it in the comments!
Elsa Neal is currently on maternity leave, but is volunteering (mostly one-handed) behind the scenes at Blood-Red Pencil. Her six-month-old is learning to operate a Kindle. She writes fiction as Elle Carter Neal and is based in Melbourne, Australia. Browse through the resources for writers available at her website or follow her writing insights at her Fictional Life Blog.