To DRM or Not To DRM?

Song of the Day: Almost Easy by Avenged Sevenfold

To DMR or not to DMR? That is the question.

DMR, Digital Rights Management, is technology used to limit the use of digital material and the devices that material is viewed, listened to, played, or watched. Bear with me here, it’s like an encrypted code that padlocks books, movies, music, and games from being shared, copied, printed, or resold illegally. In other words, it is supposed to prevent piracy.

In theory, controlling the use of digital material after the initial sale can be a good thing. In theory. The problem lies with the fact that it is easy to strip these access controls from a book. Thus not slowing down those who wish to share or pirate a book. Don’t ask me how. I’ve no experience with technology in these matters. In fact, a group of acrobatic trained monkeys are typing this post for me.

RF getty monkeyDMR proponents argue that these locks protect the intellectual property from being copied. It keeps the content from being altered and converting it to other formats. All in effort to curb illegal activity and maintain revenue ends up where it belongs—in the author’s pocket.

Opponents call foul, saying that it limits activity between stores and devices. Those who lawfully purchase a book are restricted from doing things that are legal under the fair use laws, including making a book readable on a e-reader that may not have supported the format it was purchased from. This inconveniences many consumers. More importantly, legitimate customers might be surprised they don’t actually own the book, DVD, music, or game they bought.  Remember when Amazon remotely deleted in mass George Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm from every Kindle with the purchased books without the owners’ consents? Yeah, well, that’s the case in point.

Now, there is a new DRM meant to allay both sides of the debate. Well, only part of the debate. Small changes are made within each book sold—a varying punctuation mark, an alternate word replacement—and serve as a ‘digital watermark’. You can read more about this new DRM here in an article from Wired Magazine.

It’s all very interesting. I am glad to see proactive measures are taken against piracy. But there is so much more to this story. There is so much more to DRM, both good and bad. In my opinion, if a criminal wants something bad enough, they get it no matter what safeguards are in place.

What are your thoughts? Are you for or against DRM? What do you think of the new DRM changing your words, your story? As a reader, would this bother you?

18 Responses to To DRM or Not To DRM?

  1. While I’d love to say that the new DRM will prevent piracy, the reality is that it won’t, but the blame needs to be shared. Just because a book or DVD is available from a pirate site doesn’t mean people have to download it. It’s no different than receiving stolen goods. As long as people are willing to access the pirated material, there will be someone out there capable of removing whatever safeguards are in place. It’s sad, but it’s true.


  2. jbrayweber says:

    Agreed, Susanne. If there is no demand, there will be no need for supply.


  3. girldrinkdrunk says:

    Stealers gonna steal…

    But as a consumer, I hate limits on something I purchase. Remember when there was a five device limit on iTunes? You upgrade or add add’l devices and suddenly you had to rebuy the song? I was happy to pay the extra 15¢ to have unlimited usage. There are so many platforms where apps and programs don’t work well together as it is, I can’t imagine adding another layer of frustration to the consumer.

    Also, I’m not exactly thrilled with the idea of ‘alternate word replacement’…


  4. jbrayweber says:

    Right, Kristen. DRM really does stifle the consumers. I’m willing to bet, most don’t even realize that they don’t ‘own’ much of what they’ve purchased digitally.

    And as an author, I really don’t like the idea on my words being altered. Authors spend countless hours editing their work. Having even one word, one comma not actually written by me doesn’t settle well with me either, for a whole host of reasons. Yes, before anyone calls me out on this, I am aware that altering words and placement of words to prevent piracy is not a new tactic.

    Ah…the changing world of digital publishing…


  5. Suzan Harden says:

    1) I’m not a tech genius, but I can break DRM. Hell, my eight-year-old niece can break DRM.

    2) The revised punctuation/word watermark version of DRM? As an writer, I don’t want someone messing with my book. As a former IT consultant, I’m laughing my ass off. Doesn’t anyone remember when B&N tried to strip out references to Amazon in public domain e-books? Does “He nooked a fire” or “They traveled up the Barnes & Noble River” ring any bells?

    3) girldrinkdrunk is totally right. If someone’s going to steal your book, they weren’t going to pay for it to begin with. A writer never lost a sale they didn’t have to begin with. Retailers can’t stop five-finger discounters in brick & mortar stores. How will they ever stop e-theft which is soooo much easier?

    4) Who’s actually reading your books? I’m fairly certain that people who buy my books are reading them. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be getting e-mails, tweets or reviews. But is someone who stole my books going to let me know they read it? Probably not. Did they actually read it? Probably not. Some thieves like the thrill of getting away with something, not the thrill of obtaining particular merchandise.

    5) Which books are they stealing from you? I laugh my ass off because the most common book of mine on torrent sites is my perma-free short story.


  6. jbrayweber says:

    A writer never lost a sale they didn’t have to begin with. BINGO!
    All your points are spot on, Suzan.
    Seriously, I bet only a very small percentage of people who steal books even read them. It’s like when an e-book is offered for free that receives thousands of downloads. You have to wonder how many actually read the book. People like to get things for free. That doesn’t mean the books are being read. Legitimate readers are the ones who drive future sales. Like you said, a thief isn’t going to give you a review or otherwise promote you.


  7. Very mixed feelings on this one, a lot of which Suzan has already addressed.

    It’s the idea that I find irritating. If I buy a physical book (which, uh, has been known to happen once or twice. Okay, sometimes. Well… maybe best not go there!), and I flip over it and say, “Jenn! You have to read this!” and I hand Jenn the copy I bought and say to her, “After you’re done, give it to Suzan, she will go through the roof over it!” and Jenn reads it and gives that same book to Suzan…. what harm has been done? People have traded physical books forever, given them as gifts, passed them along, pick your favorite. Technically, one could argue the author was deprived of two sales, but would Jenn or Suz have even heard of the book if I had not told them about it? Using Jenn as an example, let’s take into account she and I read *wildly* different genres, but this one is a thriller and she reads it and is so taken with it she immediately goes out and buys the authors’ entire back-list? Now the author has lost one sale but has now gained several sales and a new fan that will snap up the next book the moment it comes out. Suzan reads it, likes it, but it’s not really her cup of tea so she passes it on to someone else who does the same thing Jenn does. How does that not benefit the author?

    “Stealing”? Anyone know offhand (I do not) the current statistics for shoplifting? I bought new razor blades yesterday at a drugstore, had to find a clerk with a key; when I said something she explained teams (yes, that is the word she used) hit drugstores and wipe out razor blades, certain OTC meds, then hit Trader’s Village on Sundays. (Okay… buying pills at a flea market is a new one on me, but there you have it.) Point being, do you think bookstores are immune?

    Add in the reality that it has gone too far too fast and any measures put into place at this point are no different than current gun control proposals: the only people affected will be the ones that play by the rules, fill out the forms, pay their money. A Bad Guy needs a gun he’ll have one. A thief wants a book (or a diamond) he will get it.

    Conversely, after I buy an eBook and – for whatever reason – it is deleted from the iPad by the retailer…. that one has a BIG stone in my throat, especially if it was their fault selling the wrong edition in the first place. As Suzan mentions above, Google “Amazon” and “1984” for the whole story.


  8. jbrayweber says:

    You are right, William. And I purposely avoided the topic in the blog about trading books. One could argue it is no different than checking out a book from the library. One library books can pass through the hands of hundreds, thousands of people. But is that stealing? And does it hurt the authors? Like you said, trading books could gain new fans. Or not. But one thing is for sure, the author has had exposure.

    Yup…this is one controversial topic.


  9. I have over 800 titles in the now-defunct Microsoft Reader format. That amounts to several thousand dollars’ worth. While my current computer lasts, I can read them (though there was a phase where my activation was trashed and the only thing I could have used was an also nearly-defunct PDA). When this computer dies, my books will probably die with it, as I’m less techy than an infinite number of monkeys with typewriters. Or I could find someone who knows how to break the law. I’m generally a very law-abiding person, and this will cause me some annoyance, but now being a pensioner I simply cannot afford to replace even the most favourite of these titles.


  10. jbrayweber says:

    Ah…but, Doreen. Under the Fair Use laws, you should be able to transfer those books without penalty. It is not illegal to copy something you bought (music, DVD, etc.) for your own personal use. Think of buying music online and them burning the music onto a CD for use in your car. That is not illegal. It would be the same for you and your books. 🙂


  11. Yes … I should be able to. But these are secure Microsoft Reader e-books. With DRM protection. And I must be the only person on the planet who doesn’t know how to break the DRM coding.


  12. jbrayweber says:

    I don’t have a clue how to break the DRM coding either. 😦 Hope you don’t lose all your books.


  13. It is a hard call.Piracy is a huge problem.It is THEFT; authors/writers are being cheated out of their rightful pay.Someone else is making money off of pirated ebooks; it isn’t right/One the other hand, you can’t ask someone to shell out money and not own the story…unless we go in for low-cost, book ‘rentals’, whereas the material simply erases after so many scannings. I don’t know what the answer is. One more reason why I love real books.I buy used books and the writers get nothing from those, but they DID get pay and I won’t be making other copies of any used book.It would be hard to control, without restraints, in digital. I sympathize greatly with Doreen over her lost ebooks.


  14. jbrayweber says:

    Like you, Tonette, I don’t see a real solution to the problem. I suppose we have to be proactive as an individual, report piracy and send take down notices when and where we can.


  15. Sir Terry Pratchett once boasted of being the most shop-lifted author in the UK, and he’s still not short of a bob or two, as the saying goes


  16. jbrayweber says:

    LOL! Cute, Doreen. And true.


  17. And Bono doesn’t mind U2 being pirated but most writers need day jobs…not that many can live off of royalties, even if they get all they are due.


  18. jbrayweber says:

    When you are as big as Bono, you can afford the loss. Most of us need, and deserve, every penny from every book downloaded/sold.
    Rock on, Bono. Rock on. 😀


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