Tag Archives: DRM

When ebooks die

Microsoft’s eBook Store is closing. According to the announcement, “starting July 2019 your ebooks will no longer be available to read, but you’ll get a full refund for all book purchases.” This shows a basic truth about DRM book purchases: you don’t actually own your copy. You can use it only as long as the provider supports it. It was honest of Microsoft to refund all “purchases,” but digital oblivion eventually awaits all DRM-protected materials.

Andy Ihnatko once told me that DRM is safe because “Amazon will be around forever.” It won’t. The fact that a company as big and stable as Microsoft is abandoning support for its DRM-protected products reminds us that all such products exist only as long as the provider has sufficient motivation and ability. It’s questionable whether Amazon’s protected ebooks from today will be readable in 2050, let alone “forever.”
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HTML5 and DRM

logo, 'DRM' with XIf anything causes more controversy than DRM (digital rights management), it’s joining DRM with an open standard. The World Wide Web Consortium’s Encrypted Media Extensions Working Draft is generating controversy in plenty.

Cory Doctorow has declared: “The World Wide Web Consortium’s decision to make DRM part of HTML5 doesn’t just endanger security researchers, it also endangers the next version of all the video products and services we rely on today: from cable TV to iTunes to Netflix.”
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The return of music DRM?

U2, already the most hated band in the world thanks to its invading millions of iOS devices with unsolicited files, isn’t stopping. An article on Time‘s website tells us, in vague terms, that

Bono, Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr believe so strongly that artists should be compensated for their work that they have embarked on a secret project with Apple to try to make that happen, no easy task when free-to-access music is everywhere (no) thanks to piracy and legitimate websites such as YouTube. Bono tells TIME he hopes that a new digital music format in the works will prove so irresistibly exciting to music fans that it will tempt them again into buying music—whole albums as well as individual tracks.

It’s hard to read this as anything but an attempt to bring digital rights management (DRM) back to online music distribution. Users emphatically rejected it years ago, and Apple was among the first to drop it. You haven’t really “bought” anything with DRM on it; you’ve merely leased it for as long as the vendor chooses to support it. People will continue to break DRM, if only to avoid the risk of loss. The illegal copies will offer greater value than legal ones.

It would be nice to think that what U2 and Apple really mean is just that the new format will offer so much better quality that people will gladly pay for it, but that’s unlikely. Higher-quality formats such as AAC have been around for a long time, and they haven’t pushed the old standby MP3 out of the picture. Existing levels of quality are good enough for most buyers, and vendors know it.

Time implies that YouTube doesn’t compensate artists for their work. This is false. They often don’t bother with small independent musicians, though they will if they’re reminded hard enough (as Heather Dale found out), but it’s hard to believe that groups with powerful lawyers, such as U2, aren’t being compensated for every view.

DRM and force-feeding of albums are two sides of the same coin of vendor control over our choices. This new move shouldn’t be a surprise.

Scalzi on DRM

Mostly it’s technogeeks like us who get passionate about file format issues—Word vs. Open Office, Latin-1 vs. Unicode, unrestricted PDF vs. PDF/A. But when issues like digital rights management (DRM) come in, a lot more people will weigh in. This week quite a lot of attention has come to the format in which John Scalzi’s new novel, Redshirts, was issued. Scalzi wrote in his blog:

As noted in the FAQ I just put up, Redshirts is going to be released as an eBook here in the US without digital rights management software (DRM), meaning what when you buy it you can pretty much do what you want with it. Tor, my publisher, announced that all their eBooks would be released DRM-free by the end of July; I support this and asked Redshirts be released DRM-free from release date, so I think it might be the first official DRM-free release from Tor, which is in itself the first major publisher imprint to forgo DRM. In that way, Redshirts is a bit of a canary in a coal mine for major publishers.

However, some things went wrong. Several e-book sale sites issued Redshirts in DRM, against his express wishes. Tor and Macmillan quickly went after those sites, and most or all of them have either dropped the book or switched to offering it DRM-free.

In April Scalzi wrote: “As an author, I haven’t seen any particular advantage to DRM-laden eBooks; DRM hasn’t stopped my books from being out there on the dark side of the Internet. Meanwhile, the people who do spend money to support me and my writing have been penalized for playing by the rules.”

From the standpoint of preservation, the big problem with DRM e-books is that they will inevitably become unreadable in not too many years. Publishers will switch to new, incompatible DRM schemes or completely drop support for their older e-books. They can’t keep actively supporting old technology forever. I have no objection to it for enforcing limited access such as library loans, but if you buy a product with DRM, you’re really just leasing it for an unknown period of time.

I’ll be ordering the book shortly, and I’m waiting for the day when we can say of DRM in books for sale: “It’s dead, Jim.”

HTML5 Encrypted Media Extensions

The Encrypted Media Extensions draft from W3C is drawing controversy. DRM on the Web is traditionally implemented in the service provider, where the content delivery service has full control. But what’s streamed can be captured, and there is software readily available to do it, even if it may violate the DMCA.

An article on Ars Technica reports that Ian Hickson of Google criticized the proposal as both unethical and technically inadequate. Mark Watson, one of the authors of the draft, suggested that strong copy protection can be obtained by building it into hardware, which would mean that only some computers could receive the protected content. Hickson’s email is posted here; unfortunately, it doesn’t expand on what he thinks the problems are.

The draft is intended to accommocate “a wide range of media containers and codecs”; the question is which one or ones will be widely used in practice, and how they’ll be made available, particularly in connection with open-source browsers.

This is a potential area for browser fragmentation.