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Why Digital Rights Management is a Bad Idea

Pirates don't buy your books and most fans don't pirate books.

Sarah Hoyt


September 18, 2013 - 9:00 am
The moment you realize your just-dead reading device took your entire library with it.

The moment you realize your just-dead reading device took your entire library with it.

So, we have established that whatever else DRM is, it is bad customer relations.  It is predicated on the idea that everyone is a thief and there is no decency in the world. Honest people, of course, resent it.

But beyond that, is it needed?  Does it have validity?  Surely we all hear of sites with hundreds, sometimes thousands of pirated books, don’t we?  Is that fair to the author or the publisher of the book?

Fair is a notion from kindergarten. Unauthorized copies of intellectual content are something that has always happened and will always happen: from the kid who copies down a favorite poem by hand, to the teen who makes a compilation of songs for his beloved (remember mixed tapes?), to the European student who photocopies a hard-to-find book or article.

All of this was happening long before electronic books.

But don’t electronic books make it much easier to be a pirate?

To an extent.  But there are psychological conditions, trade offs and compensations for electronic piracy.

First of all, most readers, particularly readers who really like an author, wouldn’t dream of pirating his or her book.  Piracy seems to happen only when someone wants to “try” an author; when the person desperately wants a book and can’t buy it for some reason; and as bragging rights among pirates.  For the later, books that are intricately locked up are more likely to be a target.  There is no glory in “setting free” a book that anyone can copy.

Second, there are trade offs.  It’s almost guaranteed you will not get pirated until your book reaches a certain level of popularity.  In fact until Darkship Thieves, there were very few of my books on the torrents.  No one knew I existed, and therefore no one could be bothered pirating me. So, when you find yourself pirated, it is a sign you’re going up in the world, which should serve as some compensation.

More to the point there are people who monitor these sites for “what they should be reading” and who, if they like your book, are more likely to buy more of them.

However, over the years, the experience with these pirate sites is that while people pirate them and put them up, as a sort of feat of anarchistic triumphalism, most of the people who download those books don’t read them, and are not the kind of people who would bother buying your books anyway. So, your book might be out there for free, but people who want to read it are more likely than not to buy it legitimately. (I still send take down notices, particularly to people selling illegal copies of my books. Making a profit from my work and not giving me any of it is a definite no-no.)

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All Comments   (6)
All Comments   (6)
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The right to read is under attack. DRM is the weapon.

51 weeks ago
51 weeks ago Link To Comment
D*mn BAEN and their crack distribution system! Their Free Library is directly responsible for probably at least 30 or 40 of the books on my shelves, not to mention another dozen or so on my reader. The kicker of it is many of the real books on the shelf I originally read free...
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Exactly right. The idea is to give value to your customers, not obsess about people who are not your customers.

Businesses that are supplying good value really don't need to worry about piracy - in a well-constructed business model it won't harm their bottom line.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
DRM is why I don't upgrade my home theater - too many bad experiences with having to fight with this thing not working with that thing's implementation of a flakey DRM standard, or hating that my TV doesn't have an HDMI encrypted connection back to the receiver.

So all of that expensive hardware sits, unpowered and idle, and I just wait till it shows up on Netflix to watch it over the Wii in standard definition.

No, SONY, I'm not buying your movies, and many of them, I'll skip in the theater, largely because of your DRM and MPAA/RIAA antics. What SONY and others don't grasp is that I don't NEED their crap, and if you piss me off, there's other ways to entertain myself that doesn't involve giving them money. (like buying a good SciFi book, or getting online, or playing with the kiddos).

More fallout from the DRM war is that I don't buy media, neither music nor movies. I don't get them for myself, and I don't give them as gifts. It's been that way for 5 years now. I've got two 'tweens' that are hitting the peak music demographic, soon, and the industry will miss out on that as well.

I'm not replacing my game console, so I'm not getting one that has a ton of downloadable games, movies, or 'content' up-sell opportunities. Why? Protesting the DRM.

As far as e-books, the most DRM that I'll tolerate is a line in the e-cover that says "From the Library of Mr Gretz".

When it comes to books, I don't have time to casually browse for new authors in the store. Most everything I read now has come from picking through a friend's bookshelf, or having one of them telling me how great the book was and loaning a couple off their shelf to get started /hooked.

Steam seems to get DRM/ Downloadable content done right. My only issue is trying to share licenses with a family on multiple computers. I have reasonable confidence that the titles I buy are available to me, whenever and whereever I might be, and they're at (typically) enough of a discount that picking up a second license that the kids share is (frequently) not a big deal.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"And, if the person has a family that all like to read, the thought of buying four copies of a book will discourage them from buying the book."

This is key. Books need to be able to be handled like books. Otherwise it's something other than a book.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Amazon does it bad with their videos, too. I recently downloaded my favorite episode of Top Gear's season 19, thinking it would be nice to have it on my tablet for long trips (note: Galaxy TAB 10.1 Wifi-only). Apparently Amazon thinks this is unreasonable as I can only have it on one device and can't transfer the file to another. I even considered that it might be okay if Amazon would load it directly to my tablet through an app, but they don't have a video app for Android. It's rather ridiculous that I paid for the episode and can't put it on other devices.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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