Digital Rights Management — A Wrinkle or An Opportunity

November 16th, 2009 · 19 Comments
by Kassia Krozser

For the past few weeks, we’ve been talking about Digital Rights Management (“DRM”), and the diversity of comments have been fascinating. I still do not believe DRM prevents or slows piracy*. Add to this fact that public perception of DRM, honed by years of abuse by the music industry, is negative…or rather, though most people do not know nor use the terms “digital rights management” or “DRM”, they hate it when they encounter it.

There are genuine concerns on both side of the DRM issue.

(Oh, and do they hate it! This is a serious challenge for the industry.)

Managing digital rights, however, is going to be an increasingly important issue as new publishing business models emerge. Smart digital rights management can and will create opportunity. It will become critical for the publishing industry to understand what they’re offering (to paraphrase Mike Shatzkin) and to articulate the rules and regulations surrounding commercial transactions. Any scenario where deciphering the “what” of a purchase becomes a consumer responsibility is fraught with danger.

I firmly believe people do not object to various DRM schemes as long as they understand them (case in point: iTunes). I also believe there’s a serious onus on the industry — publishers and retailers — to open up this conversation. Right now, the digital market share is small enough that the industry can get in front of the discussion (something the music industry never managed). Having these conversations outside the bubble will engender good will and, perhaps, help both sides understand and respond to genuine concerns**.

So here is my wrinkle in the DRM discussion. I recently attended the Publishers Association of the West conference (highly recommended, by the way, as the level of discussion on tough issues was intelligent and diverse), and during the DRM discussion, an industry consultant, instead of focusing the complexities of managing digital rights, including consumer experience, chose what I called a scare tactic approach…you must have DRM because, well, you must. The sky will open and ground will collapse.

He said (and I am paraphrasing, though the gist is accurate),

You must have DRM to guarantee that your content is used in the way you want. You retain control of use.

To which I replied:

What happens when your content becomes my content?

By the way, I know the answer to my question, and it’s the dirty little secret of digital media: I, the consumer, never really “own” what I buy. This colors my perception of the transaction, impacting everything from price to usage. I constantly weigh what I get against what I’m paying for it. I’m going to say it plain: this is not a bad thing as long it’s not forgotten.

In the traditional book transaction, author and publisher control over the book ends when I hand over my money for the book. All the hopes that content will be used in the manner the publisher and/or author envision are gone when I am handed a receipt by the cashier. I can do anything I want with the (print) book, including using it as a pillow (hat tip to Lawrence Lessig). I can lend it. Resell it. Make art from it. Rent it.

Digital is different. I know I say it a lot. I believe ebooks/digital are a wholly new market with new rules and regulations (maybe I should say markets?). This marketplace should not be treated nor expected to conform to business as usual. Yes, this poses challenges; it also creates opportunities. Porting the “book” mentality to digital limits the imagination.

The Digital Millenium Copyright Act, passed in 1998, was written just as the world was moving online and engaging in all levels of commerce. It was a law written without a clear view of consumer actions (nobody can convince me the Congress in place at that time was Internet savvy), nor did it contemplate the rapid changes in consumer behavior, device usage, or even media access. As a result, far more people are criminals in the eyes of the law than should be. There is no illegal intent, but there you have it. A nation of pirates.

The problem is that some kinds of DRM conflict with the very real behaviors of consumers. The law does not provide for this, and it’s a shame major media isn’t clamoring for more consumer protection. It would likely help in the piracy realm. Especially in the gray areas, such as when customers grab MP3s of media they already own in other formats (yeah, yeah, yeah, those additional sales are nice, but c’mon, this is where some leeway could be negotiated).

It does not help anyone that the craziness continues. Right now, there are secret negotiations surrounding the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement. I don’t disagree with the need for serious protections, but a reality check (and consumer perspective) needs to be introduced into this discussion, otherwise there will be an ever-increasing gap between law and actual behavior. Your customers are not criminals.

Book publishers face a big challenge: they are porting print mores to digital media, and encountering a consumer base that has undergone two, three, four, maybe more digital transformations (music, news, motion pictures, games, everything else). This creates a consumer base that is extremely sophisticated about the challenges they face. Lost ringtones when switching phones. Lost media due to companies abandoning services. Lost access when system upgrades leave old versions behind. Lost devices.

This consumer base understands “ownership” of media is transitory, and they largely accept it as a given (savvy people understand this increases the value of physical books). In the above, there is tacit acknowledgment that, when we engage in a commercial transaction, the copyright holder wants to control the access I have. I say it’s fine. Just tell me what I can and can’t do with media and factor those limitations into the price.

In that same conference session, someone wanted to know why Smashwords wanted to sell DRM-free products. After the DRM presentation, I could see why this was a question. It seemed like DRM was the only logical solution to a problem not clearly defined. At no point, did the idea of consumer use of digital media should be considered and accommodated. It makes no sense to sell a product people simply cannot use. As Kirk Biglione noted:

Any discussion about DRM that doesn’t include consumers makes me nervous.

And there you have it, the wrinkle: the industry needs to define the commercial transaction with the consumer. Right now, publishers have opportunity. The challenge is listening to what the other side says. They’ve been talking a long time and they have insight.

Oh, and they really want publishing to succeed. For selfish reasons.

(Special thanks to everyone who contributed to the discussion on DRM. You all had great thoughts, insights, and suggestions.)

* — There isn’t a DRM scheme the world that hasn’t been broken, and if someone is really looking to not pay for content, they are going to take advantage of the black market. Thus far, the only real DRM solution I’ve seen is to not publish a book — in any format — at all. Some authors might find that particular solution unpalatable.

** — Though I hate to continually push the music model, the truth is that consumers were stating their case quite clearly. The industry chose to ignore these voices, and is still paying the price.

File Under: The Future of Publishing

19 responses so far ↓

  • John Maxwell // Nov 16, 2009 at 6:28 pm

    Nice, Kassia!

    I think you nailed it here: “the wrinkle: the industry needs to define the commercial transaction with the consumer.” Putting it like that turns the situation on its ear (or better: it sets is properly on its feet) and puts the emphasis on the right issue: what is the nature of buying digital content? How will the market articulate this? What will we the reading public be willing to accept as terms?

  • Levi Montgomery // Nov 17, 2009 at 8:06 am

    I’ve been buying books for forty-some years now. I still have some of them. Well, all right, I still have way too many of them. I can still read them. I’ve never had to worry about switching devices, new operating systems, enemy EMPs, furtive midnight retrievals by the sellers, or anything else. But I don’t own them, and that’s the crux of the issue, right there.

    You say “In the traditional book transaction, author and publisher control over the book ends when I hand over my money for the book.” That’s essentially not true, because you never bought the book, you bought a pile of paper and ink. Since the invention of written language, the publishing industry has been in the business of selling paper and ink. There’s a notice in the front of the book, as a matter of fact, that says all you bought was the paper and ink. Yes, you can use it as a pillow, you can give it away, you can sell it. You can turn it into sculpture, if you wish, but when it’s gone, it’s gone. You can loan it to every friend you have, but only one at a time. You can sell it, but only once. If you want to be certain you can pick it up and read it wherever you happen to be, and you don’t want to drag it around with you, you buy a copy for your living room, another for your office, one for the car, one for each bathroom in the house. The physical nature of paper and ink make the book its own DRM, if you will.

    When people say that DRM will not stop piracy, because it can be cracked, I point out that the lock on your door will not keep out anyone who truly wants to get in, and that’s not what it’s for. It’s there so that breaking into your house becomes a deliberate action, something I must go out of my way to do. Yes, commercial pirating of DRMed books will occur, but there are other ways to deal with that. DRM isn’t there for the crooks, it’s there for the honest people.

    For the record, wholesale pirating always found ways around the physical “DRM” of the printed book, too. Since the invention of high-speed scanners and the internet, if a pirate wants to put your book online, it’s going to happen.

    But a world where every copy of every book is its own master, where every “loan” is a gift with no sacrifice, where every book you might ever want to read will sit on every computer and device you might ever want to read it on, is a world where fiction does not get paid for.

    I don’t think there’s any real doubt that the advent of ninety-nine cent, freely duplicated, freely traded MP3 files would have put the music industry out of business if they couldn’t make up for the loss on concert tickets and tee shirts. Non-fiction authors can go on the lecture circuit. But if there is no solution to the problem of fiction being free or nearly so, freely duplicated, and freely distributed, then serious fiction will simply dry up as more and more authors stop writing in order to free up more time for driving garbage trucks, busing tables, and framing houses.

  • Emily W. // Nov 17, 2009 at 11:01 am

    I’m not so sure consumers understand the tradeoff they’re making by buying proprietary formats, like Kindle or iTunes. It’s true there is a savvy core customer base out there who can make sophisticated judgments based on price and portability, but I think this is still a minority group – though growing, as the first couple generations of iPods and Kindles break, or people lose access to parts of the iTunes libraries due to lack of use. Still, a friend at a publisher asked me recently whether I thought customers would be willing to pay an extra dollar or two for a format that was less restricted, and my sense is not yet. Maybe in a couple of years, when they understand the limitations better. What do you think?

    Incidentally, we discussed just this question of changes in conception of the book from physical to digital format at the inaugural meeting of BISG’s rights subcomittee last week. In truth you were always purchasing a set of rights as a reader when you bought a book, but that wasn’t evident before because, as Levi Montgomery points out, so many of those rights were tied up with the package. In a digital world it’s become much clearer that all transactions revolving around books, from creation to ‘end user’, are rights transactions. Now the challenge is to define and articulate those rights clearly so the marketplace can evolve (and hopefully grow!) without either authors or readers feeling like they’re losing out.

  • Kassia Krozser // Nov 17, 2009 at 11:45 am

    @levi — you are correct in noting that I do not purchase the underlying intellectual property. Once upon a time, I tried to engage in the “you’re really just buying a license” when you buy a physical book discussion, but the waters grew muddy very quickly. People, oddly, get that they’re not allowed to copy a book (or, ahem, *most* of them do), but the sense of ownership runs deep.

    Many messy thoughts to follow…some thinking out loud.

    I have a lot of trouble with the DRM is there for honest people argument, always have. I’m not going to wander up and down my block, testing locks to see if someone has left the door open. Nor, if I encountered an unlocked door, would I suddenly think, “I am an honest person, but this door is unlocked, so I will engage in crime because I can.” On the other hand, I know there is a criminal gang in my area deliberately looking for unlocked doors. Of course, that’s only part of their criminal arsenal. We’re engaged in a community-wide effort to watch out for suspicious activity and contact the sheriff. The problem for me is that DRM doesn’t even slow the act of piracy — I know people who, as a matter of course, crack the DRM on files. Not to engage in piracy, not to share files, not to do anything bad…all they want to do is read the book in the manner they wish. If these people were intent on piracy, they’d have automated tools to speed up the process. They are simply readers who spend a lot of money on books. A lot. And then they talk about the books they love.

    Ah, I think the analogy bothers me because (sorry, lightbulb!) there is a difference between keeping me out of a place I shouldn’t be and keeping from accessing something I’ve purchased (however this term is defined in the transaction). The piracy we’re seeing in books comes from a mix of places: pre-publication leaks (industry-initiated piracy), scanning of physical media (Stephen King’s “Under the Dome” was scanned and uploaded this past weekend, sigh), and people who will deliberately break the locks and pirate media (I have been engaged in a rather bizarre discussion with an ebay seller who is knowingly breaking the law, yet she justifies her action because others are doing it. My answer to her: you’re breaking the law, you know you’re doing it, if I see it, I’ll report it, and telling me that others are doing it means nothing because you know you’re engaged in illegal behavior. Her response: new user account. Wash, rinse, repeat.)

    There are, of course, studies that show file sharing increases awareness and sales. There is evidence that people who grab buffets of files don’t ever really read them (nor was there ever an intent to purchase, negating the “lost sale” argument. There are, indeed, lost sales, for a variety of reasons. And I sincerely wish we could have a serious international discussion about file sharing and piracy — one that doesn’t assume all people are inherently dishonest, one that teaches the value of intellectual property to children (while, ahem, focusing on the societal value and limitations of fair use), one that creates a culture of “we pay for content.”

    I have many (many!) friends who make their living (or part of their living) from writing fiction, and DRM is not the answer to stopping piracy. It is the answer to new business models. My serious concern is that the concept of DRM is so tainted by the bad practices being employed by publishers that it will make it harder to bring readers into new models. This is why I believe the publishing industry needs to do a better job of communicating. Right now. Not a year from now. This is the best time to instill a sense of value in digital books (Amazon, though publishing doesn’t like this, has made that very clear to consumers, and there is, for better or worse, a value being set in consumer brains).

    (Your music comment is interesting because the industry is staggering while musicians are doing fine — I heard a music exec note recently that it’s a great time to be a musician. The industry, of course, is responding by engaging in 360 and other deals.)

  • Kassia Krozser // Nov 17, 2009 at 12:03 pm

    @emily — I think we underestimate the consumer (I suspect I did for far too long). They’ve been at this for over a decade. I think the discussion had flown under the radar of publishing because it’s always seemed to apply to a different industry. The conversations about technology and how it works and doesn’t work aren’t happening with the various industries (unless someone gets fed up and writes and open letter…which, you know, I doubt most entertainment people read, unless the author is prominent). These conversations are happening in forums and on blogs and other places. One thing that has always amazed me is how people, even those who have no degree of tech savvy, are able to find the information they want to accomplish the goal they have.

    Do I think people will be willing to spend a dollar or two more for less restricted ebooks? I’d say it depends on the book (I am working on a conference presentation that contemplates a much higher price point for ebooks…and why it would work. Will be posting a teaser once I finish my thoughts). For straight narrative fiction, it’s going to be near-impossible to convince people to pay more than $10 for. Amazon and other retailers are reinforcing that price point in the consumer head, and changing minds will be near-impossible (as you see in my comment to Levi, the positive of this is that these retailers are making it very clear that ebooks are worth *something*). I often circle back to the “this is a different thing” argument, but it’s true: ebooks are different. Even without DRM, the loss incurred by the consumer is important.

    I cannot tell you how much it thrills me to hear that BISG is having this discussion. I feel like my little corner of agitation is paying off — and I honestly believe people will accept limitations and restrictions as long as they are made clear. The challenge, from my perspective, is for the publishing industry to understand that these limitations impact value in the mind of the consumer. Readers are out there talking about this topic, and it would be great if publishing (the monolith) were more active in the conversation. Not only would it give publishing a chance to hear and weigh legitimate concerns, but it would also give readers a chance to hear and weigh publishing thinking — some minds might be changed on both sides!

  • Emily W. // Nov 17, 2009 at 1:08 pm

    @Kassia – In that case I look forward to seeing your teaser on pricing and ebooks. I agree rights and value are bound up in the minds of consumers, but as your comment about Amazon makes clear it’s not a simple trade off, and for publishers making decisions about how to release their books into the market, figuring out exactly how the two are related and how they can respond (besides obvious steps like quality control) is precisely the tricky part. There are a lot of interesting experiments going on inside houses big and small that we don’t get to hear about because no one wants to tip the competition off to a winning strategy. Bringing at least part of the conversation into the public would be a welcome step.

    For what it’s worth I couldn’t agree more with your central point that we need to untangle the DRM conversation from the piracy conversation. I’ve watched music piracy from very close-at-hand (perhaps even, ahem, within my own household) and my conclusions are 1) the people who upload actively are a very different group from the people who download from what they can find online; there will always be people willing to upload but with publishing we’re still in time to potentially limit the number of people who go to P2P sites first in search of book content. (On this front I agree, too, that the retailers are doing their part to maintain the idea that books are worth paying for.) And 2) it’s true less money is spent overall on music than was in the past, so there is cannibalization when the P2P sites become the default source for new music, but a high percentage of what is pirated would not have been purchased legally, it is downloaded because it is free and therefore the risk involved in trying something new is close to zero. Just anecdotally speaking ;). There are probably ways this model can be harnessed for books but I can understand how (as Brian O’Leary experienced vividly in person at Frankfurt this year) the mere suggestion of finding legitimate ends for what we describe as intellectual piracy is enough to make publishers scream the roof off and shut down the whole conversation.

  • Kassia Krozser // Nov 17, 2009 at 4:07 pm

    @emily — I am supposed to be working, but would rather think about these thing. Teaser coming along nicely — I’m hoping the presentation will shock people into thinking differently about ebook prices. I am bemused and understanding about your comment about experiments going on in various publishing houses. I’ve had this conversation with others, and while I know the joy of springing a big surprise on people, I also know publishing. So much of the buzz about projects comes from industry-to-industry discussions. There aren’t (yet!) effective conduits for communicating with readers. I’m thinking back to when Book Army was launched. I monitored buzz for a bit, but never really saw if it was gaining traction with readers (I can’t tell now, and I’ve lost my registration, so must go through the process of signing up again and, well, you know…). So, yes, more conversation. Please.

    I think publishing has a year to get it right (last year’s prediction was Blu-Ray had a year, and it’s looking like it won’t be as much a game changer as it is a choice when new systems happen). Right now, as far as I can tell, the book buying customer is very much on the side of publishing. Yes, there are those who advocate for radical change, but it seems like there is still a lot of goodwill and desire for publishing to succeed. When I talk about publishing in public, I feel people responding to my enthusiasm about books and the industry. But I worry because this world moves really fast, and publishing, well, it moves slowly. The competition isn’t other publishers — it’s everything else. That’s what scares me.

    (I do not believe the industry will keel over, but some players, some large players, are going to be collateral damage if not outright losses — the parent company problem remains on the horizon.)

    I appreciate your anecdotal evidence on uploading, downloading, and sharing (I do none of those things myself, truly, but I understand my weird stance on this issue is weird — and it’s entirely possible, for music, I’d end up purchasing more if I engaged in more sampling [though my household, with a long-time eMusic subscription, already pays for a lot of music]). I was one who was flabbergasted by the reaction to Brian’s presentation (I was in another session, but wish I’d been there!), both from the response to what he said and the post-session spin by at least one attendee (since I know both Brian and the quoted person, it was especially baffling). I went through a painful change management process many years ago. It was ugly, it hurt, and, frankly, I’m not sure the end result was worth the pain (because the rest of the company didn’t change nor was senior management invested beyond having something to tick off a list). The hardest part of the exercise — and the group was given no choice, no voice in whether or not this would happen — was getting past the initial fear. It was truly ugly.

    And then it was done. That’s sort of how I view the current attitudes toward piracy and file sharing (I like to distinguish between the two because the latter does create opportunity; the former is someone trying to make money off property they don’t own). Taking a hardcore stance against piracy is all well and good, but a realistic assessment of the situation would be better.

  • Levi Montgomery // Nov 18, 2009 at 9:15 am

    I admit, the “locks are for honest people” analogy is a weak one, but it’s part of the vernacular, so to speak, requiring no real explanations, so I grabbed it.

    A better analogy would be to “No Trespassing” signs. Most laws that deal with trespassing require the owner to make it clear that the land is private property. This can be done in many ways (putting up a fence, posting signs, etc), and it is, in fact, intended to prevent the sort of honest mistake that used to lead tourists to assume a lawn near mine was a public park of some sort. (Huge lawn, old house, many trees, “golf green” grass, a scattering of outbuildings, etc. Long story.)

    I have six children, all of whom either have gone or are going through high school in the “internet age.” It is simply astounding how many high school students believe that if you CAN copy it off the internet, then you MAY. The simple fact that it is possible is all the permission they think they need.

    You can put a fence around your property, and the thief who wants in is still going to get in. You put up a guard booth, you hire an armed guard with the Hound of the Baskervilles on a leash, you dig a moat, you do whatever you want, and the 007’s of the world still get in. Meanwhile, your friends stop coming over because it’s just too much hassle.

    More barriers are not the answer to criminal piracy. Nor are MORE barriers the answer to casual piracy. What is needed is the RIGHT barrier, a barrier that is as simple and transparent as the binding of the physical book used to be. For the record, I have no idea what this barrier will be, nor do I know whether it will be called “DRM,” but I do know that without it, fiction will simply become free.

    Chris Anderson’s claims notwithstanding, “free” will destroy fiction. I note that he did not give his book away free.

  • Dave // Nov 18, 2009 at 11:05 am

    Levi, your argument that DRM is like installing a lock on your house to make it harder to break in is fundamentally flawed.

    A better analogy would be DRM is putting a lock on your front door, where all the honest people approach your house, while forgetting you left the backdoor open.

    Put it this way, I want an eBook. I can pay for a version with drm and have it tied to a machine(s). Or I can download the illegal version and do what I want with it.

    DRM only hurts honest people.

  • Kassia Krozser // Nov 18, 2009 at 11:33 am

    @levi — your comments about your children are the crux of a bigger issue. Looking back at my own (excellent, thank you public schools that work!) education, I know the issues of copyright were not taught. Maybe it was the era (I am old). I suspect copyright education — and again I note this must include Fair Use — is largely underserved. My problem (yeah, yeah, yeah, I know) is that we as adults cannot seem to engage in serious, thoughtful, nuanced debates about these issues, so I’m not sanguine about our ability to teach this subject to children. My biggest fear is this inability to have the conversation will lead to the corporatization of the topic (or, a seriously flawed and one-sided perspective).

    This puts the burden on parents to educate their children, and again, that’s a real challenge. I don’t know the answer, but I do know that these conversations have to happen on many levels. It’s hard to explain to kids (and many adults) why radio is free but the music on the Internet isn’t, but it can be done.

    I am, for the moment, setting aside the issue of youth versus experience, though I think it does play into this discussion: young people, who generally have more limited means and less understanding of value, embrace free, shifting toward pay models as they become more active participants in the economy. And, perhaps, the challenge we face as a society is making sure “free” doesn’t carry forward as these kids become adults.

    (As to the Free issue, I think, like the long tail, the basic principles were lost in the surrounding rhetoric. The fact that Anderson did not give his book away was a tip-off that “free” is part of a strategic business plan, not a model unto itself.)

  • Theresa M. Moore // Nov 18, 2009 at 12:34 pm

    As a publisher who uses Smashwords, I value the idea of DRM used as a third party intermediary, especially for my ebooks which are distributed through Smashwords to booksellers like Barnes & Noble for resale. I sell them directly from my site, and they are not protected per se, but I can supply them to other publishers of ebooks and be secure in the knowledge that the content will be available under those conditions. Amazon has its own conditions, which I have no constructive control over, and Smashwords has theirs. That they offer DRM is perfectly OK with me.

    Meanwhile, I have also begun offering free extracts of my books for customers to peruse before buying, which they can download directly from my site. I have taken pains to offer them in a format which most people can access, and have prepared the extracts in such a way that they are not easy to print. In this way I hope to honor the historical habit of leafing through the book for the online reader, the best way I can make my site like the typical bookstore.

    Even with DRM, however, there is no guarantee that pirates will not make off with the book. And yes, there are many young people who think that all content should be accessible for nothing. But their habits are also teaching the publishing community to relax a little. It’s fine to give away a free sample, but ultimately the customer will have to buy the whole product to get it.

    Think of the baker who gives away a donut or two in order to sell a dozen. That’s how it should work.

  • Travis Alber // Nov 18, 2009 at 4:40 pm

    Most publishers I talk to readily acknowledge that any DRM can be hacked – I think the message has gotten through. They’re just guided by fear – they don’t want to get caught having bet on the wrong horse. DRM comes up in every conversation I have with publishers, so I’m stuck talking about it every day. The two most common responses to a DRM-free system that I hear are:

    1. “I know DRM doesn’t really stop serious piracy, but we just want to make it harder for the average user.” Since I run a web-based reading system these conversations have run the gamut from asking us to turn all our pages into images, turn off right click functionality, and a battery of other crippling approaches. We’re a web company – we can’t unmake the web or how it was built. (And we chose to be a web company because the web is the best system for creating digital communities…but I digress). We can require people to log in, we can chunk content, we can let publishers decide whether they want to offer a downloadable backup copy. The average consumer isn’t going to steal it because it’s so much easier just to buy and use it. But you almost can’t get through the door unless you answer yes to the DRM question.

    2. “Our lawyers insist on it.” Right. I get it. But who’s in charge? Business decisions should be a bit broader than that.

    Publishers need to want to engage and solve the problem for it to really be solved. We’re not there yet.

    And I don’t think it’s just a question of honesty. Going out and searching for pirated copies, reading things sloppily scanned or that might crash your reader half way through is more of a pain than it’s worth for most readers.

  • Kassia Krozser // Nov 18, 2009 at 5:24 pm

    @travis — I feel your pain, especially since these restrictions are limiting a really cool product (for those who haven’t checked out Bookglutton, why not?). I scream in frustration about the “DRM question” because it’s not the right one to ask. I’m hoping the message is seeping out because I think all future business models depend upon real digital rights management. On the other hand, I think new and exciting companies will see past these limitations. For a reader, it’s very good news.

    (And thank you for mentioning the drawbacks of the pirated content — I always think it’s more trouble than it’s worth. One of my core beliefs is that publishers need to make piracy the least attractive option to readers. It’s really not that hard.)

    Hope to see you at TOC!

  • Jon Renaut // Nov 20, 2009 at 7:16 am

    Any time you put any sort of DRM on your content, you are looking your customer right in the eye and saying, “I see what you want to do with my content, and I am doing everything I can to stop you.” This is no way to treat the people who pay you and love your work.

    Content creators need to start asking, “If I enable my customers to do what they want with my content, can I still earn a living from it?”

    In many cases, the answer to this question is “Yes”. In no cases does this involve DRM.

  • Daniel E. Pritchard // Nov 20, 2009 at 1:06 pm

    Excellent post, really well put. I’ve been banging the digital drum for a while now, but this really re-framed the conversation for me, helpfully. Thanks!

  • Ist DRM eine Stolperfalle oder eine Chance? : // Nov 20, 2009 at 2:26 pm

    […] Beitrag Digital Rights Management — A Wrinkle or An Opportunity von Kassia Krozser hat mich dazu bewegt, mal wieder meine Gedanken, Ideen in einer recht […]

  • Pamela Pastachak // Nov 21, 2009 at 6:25 am

    I was an early adapter to ebooks, reading first on my palm. As a Canadian, I had to create an American identity to get access to Kindle (and Canadian consumers were one of the last in the world to get Kindle access, finally arriving last week). I’ve been watching the progress of the digital world on reading for a decade. I am a reader. And I took to digital books for the simple reason that I don’t have enough room in my home to house the books that I read. I still buy “keepers” in hardcover format.

    As well as being an ardent follower of ebooks, my family is a devoted to mp3 music. We copied our extensive CD library into digital format early on, and have struggled with the complex licensing of digital music purchases ever since. We have strict rules about not downloading or uploading music, movies or other content in violation of copyright law. We have a simplistic understanding of copyright law as consumers, being “if you didn’t buy it and pay the publisher for it you don’t have the right to use it.

    What I don’t understand in all of this discussion is the morality of DRM for the consumer. It seems that some consumers would like DRM to favour them so they can, simply put, steal the content. Whether they want to steal the content to resell it or give it away isn’t the point. They want to steal it. They didn’t write the work, didn’t publish the work, but somehow think that in the amorphous world of the internet, it is okay to steal content. The question to be put then isn’t what publishers can do to prevent this, or what media forms can inhibit this practice, but why consumers think it is okay to rip off their favourite artists and steal their product. Where have all the morals gone? What are we teaching kids in school in the “I’m okay, you’re okay and anything you do can be understood in a subjective context” world?

    In the last year, we’ve learned we should be teaching our kids about the fundamentals of finances if we want them to have a healthy financial future and avoid the pitfalls of consumer debt and risky real estate. It appears we should also be teaching children about the basics of morality, the code that allows humans to live together in society in ways that do not harm one another. Once upon a time there were moral institutions who did this (and I have no idea of churches even touch upon the immorality of stealing web content), but increasingly in the western world of the twenty-first century, there is a vacuum in this area. The internet is young; we learn as it develops, and in DRM we are learning that consumers could ensure the continuance of this media with a little moral fibre applied.

    Copyright won’t be maintained by trying to tie up DRM in legal conundrums that ultimately will do little to stem the tide of content theft. It should become socially abhorrent to pirate content. The idea of uploading, downloading or violating copyrights should repel users.. Children need to learn the basics of publishing economics and find pride in legally purchasing content from their favourite artists. The internet didn’t develop to further e-commerce, it developed to bring users together in a world without limits. DRM won’t succeed for this reason as the internet is inherently resistant to containment. In the final analysis, users control this battle and users will define the outcome.

  • punditius // Nov 21, 2009 at 4:16 pm

    The purpose of copyright law is to encourage creative activity for the benefit of society, by protecting the economic incentives for the creator. There is a tradeoff involved: protection for a while during which there is limited free use by the public, followed by compete free use after a reasonable period.

    DRM is an attempt by the creator and his agents, the media industry, to overrule the public’s right to limited free use, also known as fair use. It is a unilateral rewrite of the basis for copyright law, to the benefit of the creator and the loss of the public.

    If we want to renegotiate the deal, fine – let’s renegotiate the WHOLE deal. How about full DRM protection for the product for one year? Or three years. You want more time for the creator? Well, that’s what fair use is all about, and the creator has rejected it by permitting publishers and resellers to put DRM on the product.

    Piracy is the theft of economic benefits fairly due to the creator. When the creator starts by reneging on the deal, he forfeits the right to those benefits. Under the current application of DRM, the creator has no claim against the user of the product, because it is the creator who has violated the contract in the first place.

    If I were ever sitting on a jury involving claims of copyright violation and DRM, I’d never convict.

  • Brian O'Leary // Nov 21, 2009 at 4:51 pm

    I’ve enjoyed reading (and re-reading) your recent posts on rights management in a digital world. I’m planning to link to these three posts from my site, although I suspect your audience is broader and more engaged than the one I might send your way 🙂

    Also, thanks for the kind words (from Emily as well as Kassia) on the reaction to the P2P research presentation at TOC – Frankfurt. I tend to look at the response as much better than no reaction at all – it’s at least the start of a conversation. You’re creating a similar conversation through these posts. Thanks for that.