Digital Rights Management….with Daniel J. Weber

by Author Ingrid Hall

daniel j weber

For today’s stop on the Indie and Proud campaign, I am pleased to hand over to Daniel J Weber…

Daniel J Weber is a writer who generally writes whatever comes to mind, although mainly chooses to focus on things of a fantastic nature. He likes to write about topics and themes concerning self-discovery, self-esteem, and how the world around us effects who we were, are, and will become. He is part of INDIE AND PROUD and lives in Northern Ontario, Canada.

Who owns the keys?

 Dystopian fiction, it’s in us all. Whether you are a book reader, TV watcher, or gamer – whatever type of media you favour – you have entered into the dystopian world that is on a rise in popularity. Everything from nuclear fallout to the zombie apocalypse has been covered over and over again, bringing to life this end-of-the-world obsession that is so prevalent in the media (and our minds) to date.

For the sake of argument, and perhaps to add a fictitious flavour to this non-fiction article, let us put on our thinking caps and enter into a dystopian age together. Image, the world is falling apart. Social fall-out is on the rise. Paranoia is no longer cured by drugs, but in fact is encouraged. Doors are always locked against the criers in the streets. No one can trust their neighbours, friends family… even themselves.

Where do we turn in such a society? Who holds the keys to the world? In desperation, we reach out to the government who promises to keep our families, lives, and all that matters safe. In order to do this, we give them the means to our survival, in hopes of turning this dystopia into a utopia. We give them the keys.

Screams of terror turn to shouts of joy. This new security is uplifting, exciting, throwing loads off of hearts from one sea to the next. We are safe, protected against all who might threaten what matters most, but one question still remains. Who holds the keys?

Now, let us step out of those fiction shoes, throw the hats of imagination away, but keep this final question and the message that struggles free. Who holds the keys?

As authors, or artists of any kind, we can be greatly concerned about thievery. Art is what spurs us on. It is the source of our lives, the blood that flows within our veins, and, sometimes, the only thing that gets us up in the morning or causes our minds ease when night comes with its whispering cries. If we lock our doors against such thieves, would it not prove equally logical (nigh-on insane to do otherwise) to lock up our art, only allowing those to whom we sell it the taste of our life’s work? Shout Amen! Sing Hallelujah! If only this were the case…

Digital Rights Management (DRM) is essentially a system that proposes such freedom. It offers the opportunity to only allow legitimate customers access to our art, thus abolishing thievery (turning dystopia into utopia). The question is, who hold the keys?

I count it no fault of an author for putting DRM on their book(s). Most times it is done for legitimate reasons. The most common thing that I hear authors say when I query them on why they chose to have their works DRM-locked is this. “I want to protect against piracy.” This is, unfortunately, the lie that many of us have bought into. The lie is fed to us from the very top, and it is this: DRM prevents piracy (just like locking your door, in theory, prevents thievery). Yes, regardless of locks, sometimes thieves break in and steal. I will not comment on the effectiveness of DRM as a piracy protection method in length, except to simply say that DRM offer little to no protection. The bigger question, as authors, we should be concerned with is: who hold the keys?

DRM does not allow books to only be accessed by legitimate customers, but instead limits legal and sane use of our art, thus, in effect, limiting and causing disgruntlement in our audience. Whether it be Adobe DRM, Amazon specific DRM, or any other type, the keys function the same. If readers buy a DRM-locked book at the distributor, they can only read it on devices licensed by that distributor. More specifically, this means that if you buy an e-book from Amazon that has DRM, it will only be readable on Amazon licensed devices (Kindle apps and/or devices). Here in-lies the problem. The distributor (not the author) owns the keys to the book(s). If the reader owns a Kobo e-reader or Nook device and purchases a DRM-locked book from Amazon, they cannot read it. Without DRM, such books (regardless of where purchased) can be converted and side-loaded onto any device. With DRM, the only way for this to be possible is by breaking the law, cracking the DRM, and then side-loading the product. This, then, leaves the reader with two options: break the law just to read a legitimately purchased book, or go out and buy a Kindle.

Because the distributor had all the rights to the keys, breaking the DRM does not hurt the author, but instead hurts the distributor. It is, in essence, a marketing scam wearing the mask of helping authors fight piracy.  Most people don’t want to break the law, but it is quite nonsensical to be forced into purchasing a device from the distributor in order to read a single book you purchased. True, kindle offers free apps for phones, computers, tablets, etc. But if you already have a reading device that has all of your books, why be forced to switch to a different device for certain books? This would be like only having the right to bring home 50% of the books you purchased from the store. The others you have to read in-store because the manager (not the author) has decided that by bringing the book(s) home (even though you bought it) you are breaking the law. The best analogy I have heard concerning this was penned by Cory Doctorow who said: “This (DRM) is as if Indigo can print their books with special ink that would only be readable under Indigo’s light-bulbs. Indigo might have lovely stores, they might be very stylish, their CEO might come out in a turtle-neck twice a year and show you their awesome products, and their light-bulbs might be very reasonably priced, but I think most of us can still agree that Indigo… nobody should own the exclusive lights under which our books can be read.” (As seen at Writer’s Festival 2009).

If I buy a book, I want to be able to do with it what I would do with a regular paper book (take it on a trip, loan it to a friend, throw it in a lake… wait, I don’t throw books into lakes! How absurd!) DRM essentially takes the power out of my hands and I can no longer choose to do what I want to do with a legally purchased product. If Amazon was a book-lenders service (like a library) that would make sense. Libraries have certain rules about the dos and don’ts of the books you borrow (like don’t throw them into lakes…) and I respect that because I don’t own the book. If I buy a book I should then own it and thus be aloud to do what I want with it.

We all want to live in a utopia, a place where everyone gets along, where there is nothing to be afraid of (even the thievery of our books). The reality is that thievery happens, and handing over our keys to the book distributors, giving them full rights to abuse our rights as authors (and thus restrict our readership) does not help prevent piracy. Instead, it helps the distributors sell their products (e-readers). So, which is better when the zombie apocalypse comes: leaving your door unlocked, or locking it and giving your key away so that when the zombies are chasing you, and you need to get inside, you can’t because you didn’t buy your shoes from the correct store (distributor)?

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Jamie Marchant will be hosting Dennis Higgins on Monday 27th January:

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