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Why Digital Rights Management is a Bad Idea

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.)