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The eBook Debacle

by Bruno Deshayes on 12 May 2016 permalink
Ever thought of buying an eBook as a gift for somebody? Or maybe sell it second-hand on eBay like you would a paper volume? You would be running foul of the many restrictions of DRM (Digital Rights Management) imposed by dominant players like Amazon, Apple and Adobe.

Their aim is to restrict your freedom in an attempt to build their copyright empires. The fine print in the customer agreement you have to endorse even says that they have the right to delete ebooks from your hard disk! And some would call that progress! Even more worrisome are the big brother implications where a publisher can now know precisely who is reading which book. Marketing intelligence they would say. But think how Big Brother would draft a list of conspirators in a repressive regime. Just pull up a list of all the customers who read a book by Julian Assenge for instance. As you can see, those corporate moguls are a law onto themselves. They used their legal departments to induce the US government into passing the dubious Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

At the same time we have Project Gutemberg where a band of volunteers are turning into ebooks everything they find interesting in the public domain. Mind you, there are some interesting loopholes - for instance in Australia all works of an author who died before 1954 are in the public domain. In the USA it has to be before 1923.

Computer technology makes it ideal to share information. Once a piece of music, a film or a book are digitized - they can be duplicated and shared across the internet at virtually no cost - just like spam email!

So if you are a musician, an actor or a writer - you can get great exposure and quick recognition if you are a master in your art. You would also be down on your luck to prevent one downloaded copy of your work from reproducing like a pair of rabbits...

No wonder the big names in Hollywood see their empires in danger. The DRM strategy is to check with some authority online if a copy of some digital work is genuine or pirated. To that end, each purchase must be recorded at a central server against a given computer, tablet or smartphone where it was originally downloaded. Where things get complicated is when you borrow an ebook from a library, buy an ebook as a gift to be played on an un-registered machine - or when you transfer the digital property from your laptop to your desktop computer for instance.

Publishers have earned the ire of consumers when those authorisation servers go offline or the company operating them goes bankrupt, when eReaders shine in ineptitude because of incompatible standards and so forth. You would think that in the 21st century buying an ebook on Amazon in order to read it on a device other than the Kindle would be child's play - not so.

Just like you can find programs to bypass DRMs that prevent the duplication of DVDs, now you can find programs to strip the DRM from eBooks and to convert them from one format to another.

DRM is an attempt to preserve a dying business model in the digital age and to restrict competition. Contrast that to the success of Wikipedia where collaborative work and knowledge flourish.


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