Ebook DRM provider goes dark, the books you paid for disappear

Hudson sez, "Fictionwise used Overdrive to provide DRM encrypted ebooks to their customers and Overdrive has informed them that they will be shutdown on 30 January with no reason given. Since Fictionwise doesn't have the decryption keys, they are not able to provide new versions of the books to all customers."
Fictionwise strives to maintain your purchases indefinitely, but our terms of service do not guarantee they will be available forever. Forever is a long time. We have control of our MultiFormat files and we have control of the Secure eReader format, so that gives us the ability to ensure we will continue to be able to deliver those formats to you. However, as noted above, other formats are delivered through third party aggregators. We do not have legal control of those third party servers. If those third party servers "go dark" for one reason or another, we have no way to continue delivering those files.
And publishers wonder why their customers rip books off on #bookwarez sites rather than paying for them...

OverDrive and the eReader Replacement File Program FAQ (Thanks, Hudson!)


  1. I wonder why people even buy that stuff.
    Today, you don’t only save some money by stealing books and music, but you actively fight DRM and bad marketing! ^^

  2. @1 The majority of people simply don’t know any better. To actively fight DRM you have to know what DRM is.

  3. My library offers free downloadable ebooks and audiobooks via Overdrive. Since the number of “digital copies” is limited, I still have to go on the waitlist sometimes, and it is always shorter for the drm crippled wma files than the mp3s.

    I just download the wma files and then “record what you hear” via Audacity to make them into mp3s, so that I can actually use them how I want. I’ve never uploaded them, or distributed them, and I haven’t felt the need to re-listen to them after the “expiration” date, so I just delete them anyway.

    Sometimes, when I’m particularly lazy, I’ll “check out” a wma copy and just torrent an “illegal” mp3.

    As long as it’s harder to be honest, I’ll never truly give up being a “thief”.

  4. Does anyone know of an open standards based e-book reader? I would love to have an e-book reader that supported most text formats, used standard ports, maybe SD cards to expand the memory and didn’t cost more than a laptop.

  5. Good, the more often this happens, the more reluctant people will be to purchase DRM-encumbered content in the future. It’s still early days for DRM downloads, and this kind of stuff will stuff it up neatly.

  6. FictionWise is right that “forever is a long time”, but stuff bought when they first opened shop (June 2000) didn’t even make it to the first decade.

  7. Sweeney, the Nintendo DS has a lot of homebrew software that is designed for ebooks. You can read with the screens on top and bottom, or hold like a book (it has 2 screens) to read. It is the best e-reader I’ve ever used, having used the Sony and Kindle. I haven’t tried the Iliad, but it’s more money than a frickin netboook with much less functionality.

    The DS is like 110 bucks, and the homebrew cartridge + microsd 8gig card will be about 60-70 bucks added.

    But it is also an awesome handheld gaming device – will play regular DS games, Gameboy Advance games, as well as supporting NES and SNES emulators. Totally worth it. I think it’s major issue is that .txt is the best format – it seems to have PDF viewing problems.

  8. I don’t feel so bad reading OCR’d sci-fi novels on my iPhone any more. At least those will always work as long as my iPhone does. Or PC. Or whatever else I put the RTFs on.

  9. To their credit, Fictionwise is trying to replace all the users’ books. They certainly were under no obligation to do so, as their FAQ points out.

    Fictionwise is one of the good guys. I’ve spoken to Steve Pendergrast, one of their head honchos, and he’d really rather do without DRM altogether if he could, but it’s the publishers who insist upon it.

    Might I suggest this would make a great thing to talk about if you’re going to send in your comments to the FTC for their Open House about DRM?

  10. “…but our terms of service do not guarantee they will be available forever. Forever is a long time.”

    Huh. Zippo doesn’t seem to have a problem with a lifetime product guarantee.

  11. Zippo doesn’t have to deal with lighter fluid and flint manufacturers suddenly deciding their product can’t be used with Zippo lighters.

  12. I’d like the second Robotech_Master’s view on Fictionwise — they are going beyond what most providers have done when dealing with obsolete DRM. Amazon told the “Digital Locker” folks, ‘Tough!’. Plays-for-sure sure doesn’t play anymore. Wikipedia has more examples.

  13. @6 Sweeny. I use Mobipocket’s creator which is freeware to convert almost all formats. Txt, pdf, doc, rtf, etc, etc, etc to a single very easy to read format and then I just read them on my PDA (xda 2s. 3 1/2″ screen). Works perfectly, no drm and very easy to convert, add covers etc. I also use mobipocket’s reader (also free) to keep my libary in order on my pc/sync with the PDA. I have just over a 1,000 ebooks.

    Small file size as well. e.g. Harry potter 7, 600 pages hardback only 734KB as mobipocket file. Asimov Foundation trilogy 1-3 930KB. The Hobbit 404KB.

  14. I have 259 books on my fictionwise bookshelf and not one of them is effected by this issue. They are all eReader or multiformat.

  15. I bought my first PDA about 2 weeks after I found out you could read books on them. I became a loyal Fictionwise customer soon after.

    I have 4 books that are affects: 2 Mary Gentle ones (the Ilario series) and 2 Terry Pratchett ones. :( It’s bad enough the Pterry has put a “bad listener, do NOT copy or share my stuff!” notice on his Audible.com audiobooks. Now even the ebooks are affected by this DRM crap.

    I hates it, but I’m too lazy to find the stuff that’s not legal.

  16. I hope this keeps happening. I hope it happens to enough people that eventually no one will buy DRM crippled media.

    This is a good thing in my mind

  17. It’s just occured to me that, at the very least, if a publisher chooses to use DRM on what they digitally publish, there would be a legal requirement/provision that makes the file/device’s DRM evaporates once the copyright period expires, no? (Either by releasing the keys, or of a DRM-free version, etc.)

    Otherwise, the rights-holder ends up with a copyright period longer (by a factor of infinity) than the law allows, no?

    If I listened to all those lectures and podcasts correctly, copyright is control that is granted to the creator of a work, for a limited period of time. It’s not freedom to copy that is granted to the public after a limited period of time.

    Why hasn’t the law caught up with this, rather than concentrating of extending the Disney Corp.’s copyright on Mickey Mouse?

    Imagine the scene:
    “You can buy this digital book for the same price as the dead-tree version..[Yeah, look up examples of THIS madness on Amazon..]..even as the cost of ‘printing’ and delivering it is pretty much ZERO!

    And if you loose your license-file or -device, or if the creator of the software decides they’d rather be sailing, and you need to get another copy of the book for whatever device you’re using now…then you’re screwed. Royally.

    But if you wait 95 years, ‘cuz the author died last week, you can get a DRM-free version.”

    Yeah, that’d really spur sales…

    IMHO, anyone who willingly (and knowingly?) purchases DRM material deserves whatever happens to them. So far, I’ve loaded/read 535 documents (books, articles, essays, and research papers) on my iLiad, none of which are DRMed. All acquired legally. It’s just not that difficult.

  18. aren’t these providers digging their own graves?

    making arguments against their ability to claim perpetual ownership of digital files points to the reason it is makes sense to sell perpetual ownership rights in the first place.

    doesn’t the fact that they say it’s unrealistic to expect them to maintain permanent files point to the conclusion that it makes sense to just sell the product and the file maintenance to the buyer? like we normally do when we sell books, and other recordings?

  19. Pork Musket @ #2:

    @1 The majority of people simply don’t know any better. To actively fight DRM you have to know what DRM is.

    In that respect, this is good news. Nothing teaches about DRM like losing access to the media you thought were bought and paid for.

  20. OK, so those books will just disappear from the Fictionwise bookshelf – they do not require Overdrive servers to be read on target device once downloaded.

    Anyway, I am glad I am purchasing only Multiformat titles and download them in good old PDF.

    BTW, I don’t “share” those books via bittorrent or such, but I do occasionally give a copy to friends, much like I lend them “hardcopy” books I own.

  21. BTW, I don’t “share” those books via bittorrent or such, but I do occasionally give a copy to friends, much like I lend them “hardcopy” books I own.

    You lend people books? You thief!

    Next you’ll be telling us you buy and sell books “secondhand”, thus depriving publishers and authors of yet more revenue opportunities.

    I’m glad that the dawn of the eBook will soon make such activities a thing of the past.

  22. #21 PAULR,
    I don’t think that’s right actually. The DRM isn’t preserving the copyright in that sense.

    If I sold you a record, in a locked box, I wouldn’t have to give you the key when the copyright was up.

    The DRM, like the box, is determining what you can physically do with the music, not protecting the copyright of it.

  23. I don’t know if it’s still true, but the textbook publisher I used to work for (Houghton Mifflin/Cengage Learning) used Overdrive to secure their downloadable textbooks. Bet they’re going to have a lot of fun explaining that to the customers.

  24. Hi,

    I’m Steve Pendergrast, one of the owners of Fictionwise.

    This posting is highly misleading.

    Nobody is losing *any* ebooks due to this change. The ebooks *do not* stop functioning after the servers go down. You simply can’t re-download them again. If you back up your files properly you can continue to read them indefinitely.

    Secondly, Fictionwise is actively replacing the books from a source that we control and can maintain indefinitely. We’ve already replaced 80% of the books that are affected. In the coming weeks we’ll replace more and more of them. This will give our customers ways of downloading the books again even if they do not properly back them up.

    Fictionwise has been an advocate of unencrypted books for a long time, and we actually don’t like DRM, but large publishers currently require it so we have no choice if we want to sell most big-name author books. So don’t get me wrong, we prefer to sell unencrypted books and we devote half our front page and half our newsletters to those kinds of books for that reason.

    But let’s not overstate the anti-drm case here. People can still download their books before those servers go offline and keep reading them on whatever device they download to, probably for years. The servers going down does NOT stop your books from working. In addition, we’re working to make the books available in another format, eReader, that is not tied to device ids so even when you change your device you’ll still have your content going forward. 80% of the affected books are already available in eReader format for our customers, and our goal is to get that to 100% in the coming weeks.

    -Steve Pendergrast

  25. #4 posted by JeremiahBritt

    My library offers free downloadable ebooks and audiobooks via Overdrive. Since the number of “digital copies” is limited, I still have to go on the waitlist sometimes, and it is always shorter for the drm crippled wma files than the mp3s.

    Now this is just nuts… they have a limit on how many copies can be “checked out” at any one time and have a waiting list???

    It’s a DRM’d file, it should expire without having to require the borrower to return it so someone else can then “borrow” it… some software designer has gone to a lot of trouble to implement this ridiculous dead tree limitation to a digital file???

  26. FictionWise is right that “forever is a long time”, but stuff bought when they first opened shop (June 2000) didn’t even make it to the first decade.

    That’s not really true.

    “The books you paid for disappear” subtitle on this post is quite misleading. The books keep working even after jan 31, plus we’re providing replacements in eReader format, a format that can be moved from one device to another without re-encryption.

    Fictionwise is working very hard to make sure our books continue to be readable long term. We’ve already replaced 80% of the affected books and we’re working to cover the rest in the coming weeks. Our own eReader format is unique in that it does not even require a re-download to work when a customer changes their device. We’ve worked with industry groups on ideas like ebook escrows, and we’ve pushed unencrypted ebooks at every opportunity.

    Of course, we agree that DRM causes problems (and this situation is an example to be sure), and we’d prefer if we could sell all our ebooks unencrypted. We probably sell more unencrypted books than just about anyone. But right now the larger publishers don’t allow it. It’s either sell with DRM or not at all.

  27. Our library uses Overdrive as well. It’s not going to cause them issues, however, as Overdrive isn’t stopping, they’re just stopping WRT Fictionwise.

  28. People with DRM protected books can always use CLIT to bust them open — it’s something I would certainly do if I’d purchased a book and was locked out of it.

    I don’t steal books because I like to support WRITERS but at the same I time I don’t want companies like Overdrive stealing from me either.

  29. arkizzle @ 26

    The default value is that any creation (literature, image, or invention) is that it is the property of The Commons (as in here: http://www.iascp.org/). That’s why laws have to be passed in order for copyright to exist – copyright is given to the creator of a work by the laws.

    DRM is a means to reflect natural difficulty that usual/older methods of distribution made wholesale copying difficult or impractical – a non-state-enforced means of ‘enforcing’ copyright. Paper books, paintings, VHS tapes, what have you, are expensive to copy and almost always are “infidèle” – not exact copies. This method of ‘enforcement’ doesn’t apply for works in a non-encrypted digital form – perfect copies can be made ad-quasi-infinitum.

    Well, rather than looking at the intent of the DRM (that is, to protect the rights’ holder(s), um, rights) look at the effect:

    As in the case here:
    The OverDrive has decided to stop offering the service/product and didn’t release the private keys to Fictionwise or some third-party escrow. These could decrypt the work permanently, rather than ‘right now, while you’re looking at it on this device’.

    Some sort of escrow scheme (or, say, a distributed key-sharing scheme like here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Secret_sharing) should have been set up from the start so that the keys would be release upon expiration of the copyright. Remember, at the copyright expires, the Digital Rights belong to The Commons, not to OverDrive, Fictionwise, nor to the creators of the works.

    So, after the posted date, you won’t be able to d/l a copy of the work encrypted for the specific device they are meant to be read on, which is selected at the time of d/l.

    Which means, as long as the device still works, you can read it. From Steve Pendergrast’s post @ 28:
    “People can still download their books before those servers go offline and keep reading them on whatever device they download to, probably for years.” [My emphasis]

    Muc later, when the copyright expires, the work returns to The Commons. Problem is, the work is/might not be available in an unencrypted form.

    Thus the copyright by the use of this DRM extends into near-infinity, given what we understand about state of the art encryption methods. Which is something that the law doesn’t allow. (This offer may be void in places that think the DCMA is a god-send…)

  30. Sharing an ebook with a couple of friends isn’t that big a deal. You’d do that with a paperback, and it’s pretty standard. It may actually help the publisher, since they may return to the site if they enjoy the author.

    What gets folks up in arms is when people upload the files to filesharing sites and thousands of people download it. That’s a huge loss for both the publisher and author.

    While some people feel authors and pubs are loaded and can afford it, the price we small press pay to be truly independent without kissing the behind of mass production and handing over a huge percentage of the author’s royalties to them is that we need those sales, and something like that really kills our overhead.

    Sermon aside, this kind of issue is why we chose to avoid most third-party distributors – you not only have to give up a percentage off the cover price, but you’re subject to their foibles and decisions with no real input. I’ve had readers tell me they prefer to go to the publisher site to buy them, and that may be your safest bet in some cases.

    However, Fictionwise is the only third party distributor we do utilize. They have an great rep, and their people have always been both straightforward and professional in all dealings with me. So I feel fairly confident that they’ll handle this competently as well.

  31. *sigh*. As much as I love Escapepod and the other Escape Artists podcasts, I wince every time they read one of those damn Audible promotions. (Audible DRM’s their stuff. Podiobooks is pay-what-you-want, and carries ungodly amounts of indy content – go there, and get some.) It’s only a matter of time before all the audible subscribing suckers eat the same fate.

    What is it, like, 90% of startups go under in the first year? So those of you saying “Good, hope this keeps happening” – don’t worry, it will keep happening, a lot.

    At some point, the publishers will notice that every time they sell the rights over to a DRM’d audiobook service, their customers eat poop. That’s the point that they’ll either decide that the Internet is full of evil, and begin to withdraw completely back to dead trees (FAIL, sooner or later); OR they finally stop insisting on their partners using DRM.

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