DRM-free Kindle books: are they any free-er?

Amazon is selling Kindle books without DRM, but they still won't answer three fundamental questions: 1. Whether the terms prohibit moving DRM-free books to non-Kindle platforms; 2. Whether patents or other IP prohibit making third-party readers for the Amazon DRM-free format format; 3. Whether they can still revoke DRM-free files, or disable their features, and if so, which features can be disabled and what circumstances would lead to revocation. The answer to these three questions is the difference between owning a book and having an innocent book used as bait for a tawdry lock-in scheme.


  1. My newest DRM-free ebook reader is my Android mobile phone. Not perfect yet, but FBReader and Aldiko are free EPUB readers for Android.

    Also, let’s not forget the very open Sony readers, like the PRS-505. Also EPUB capable.

    Go EPUB!

    1. Cory’s questions are not so much about the Kindle hardware as they are about the Amazon Kindle *store*. The Kindle is a fine device for reading DRM-free ebooks obtained from places other than Amazon (for example, I enjoyed Cory’s _Makers_ on my Kindle 2). Granted, Amazon’s foot-dragging on EPUB means that you need a conversion step to read DRM-free EPUB ebooks on a Kindle, but that’s not a big deal.

      I would love for Amazon to have a robust DRM-free ebook store. That would be a nice step towards the fully competitive ebook market we (readers, that is!) all want.

      1. Fair enough tdanner. Kindle can be used in a non-evil manner voluntarily.

        Speaking of competitive ebook market, I’ve been buying DRM-free books from Fictionwise for years. I have over 600 unencrypted pieces of literature from them. Can’t get enough! And I think they’re far from the only ones out there. The important thing is open formats to keep lock-in away.

        This makes me think of an interesting question that I don’t know the answer to: Can Amazon remotely do anything to any file on your Kindle? Can they delete (even if only accidentally) a perfectly legal DRM-free EPUB that you installed on it? How about if a country enters a state of martial law and the goverment wants certain, freely-shared literature they consider subversive destroyed?

        If the answer to that is ‘yes’, then this is complete FAIL. For any of these devices really. Sony, Android smartphones, you name it.

        One things’s for sure, they will never be able to do so on my personal computers running Linux. Ever.

  2. Man, Amazon is getting more and more panicky by the day. They must realize that the Kindle’s days are numbered.

    (Although it would be kind of funny if next Wednesday came and all Apple announced was a new color scheme for the iPod Nano…)

    1. > How would you, as a customer, know that a book is DRM-free?

      This is a good question. How do you know the unencrypted claims are true.

      Now, when I buy books, I download a file to my computer. I witness many of these books open on two or more readers that I own, none of them configured with DRM authentication information. Some of them not even capable of it (like open-source software that I installed myself).

      But this isn’t the situation with many of our internet-connected things, where you’re buying media right on the device. What goes on between the client and server is often very opaque to the end-user. This is great and convenient stuff, for sure. But it’s also hiding things from you.

      Most average users don’t have the interest to dig into what’s going on and tinker with the data and internals of these systems.

      So you wait for some geeks to investigate what occurs between your highly-connected reading device and the mothership. Investigate what the data looks like outside of the reader. Investigate if the document works just fine on other devices and software (not connected to the mothership).

      If a situation arose that a company was, either deliberately or by a mistake, claiming that some media was DRM-free when that wasn’t the case, they’d be found out sooner rather than later. It becomes a news story, they take a lot of heat, and the whole thing grinds to a screaming halt for them.

      That’s what I believe would happen. That’s how you know.

  3. Personally I think it’s rather difficult to improve on the mother of all DRM-free standards: the plain text file.

  4. …owning a book < <>> having an innocent book…

    sry m8 I want to post a link here on a discriminating person’s facebook…

  5. Try doing a little more research before assuming Amazon = evil, Cory. The regular Kindle AZW format is nothing but a Mobipocket file with standard Mobipocket DRM. (if you can get your Kindle’s MOBI ID, you can even buy books at other competing eBook sellers, although Amazon’s usually cheaper).

    It stands to reason that the DRM-free version will just be a DRM-free MOBI (especially because Kindle doesn’t support much else). Mobipocket is easily readable by 3rd party apps, including the open-source Calibre, which can then re-convert it to any ebook format you want.

    1. You can’t convert books purchased in amazon or any leading retailer store (barnes and noble, borders, etc), as you will need to crack the drm first. It’s not just amazon that is playing around with the DRM but every retailer out there. My main concern is: just becuase I’m using a kindle, or a nook today doesnt mean I will use it tomorrow, however, the ebooks I buy from any store should be readble on any device I might use in the future (as I paid for them)

  6. I had joked with a friend that I was worried about Cory since this news was over 24 hours old and there was still no comment on it. Glad he’s okay.

  7. >Try doing a little more research before assuming Amazon = >evil, Cory….

    Try reading the post. None of the information you provided addresses – in any way – the questions Cory asked. The questions are about Amazon POLICIES and CAPABILITIES – not about the format of the books.

    Put another way, Amazon is evil because they refuse to answer basic questions relating to property ownership. Do we own the books or not is a really important question, and one that we, as customers are entitled to an answer to. If we own the books, then the purchasers contract with Amazon has been satisfied and concluded. They (Amazon) have no more rights to or influence over the book. If we have not purchased the book, then we have a right to the disambiguation of contract terms – like whether or not we can move it to our PC or other ebook device.

  8. Your points are right on target, but one secondary point of confusion was introduced by saying “patents or other IP”. “IP” is a term that generalizes about laws that have next to nothing in common and shouldn’t be generalized about. Every time it’s used, it confuses.

    See http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/not-ipr.html for more explanation.

    It would be clearer to say just “patents” in this article; I don’t think other laws would apply to a question like this.

    If the purpose was to acknowledge that there may be legal obstacles we have not anticipated, that possibility is not limited to the dozen or so “IP” laws. They could come from other laws too. So it would be more accurate to say “patents or other legal restrictions”. That covers all possible sources of the problem.

  9. How (easily) to tell if a Kindle book has drm.

    Install Kindle for PC to Windows.

    Install FBReader to Windows.

    Use Kindle for PC to download the books you want to test to your PC.

    The Kindle books are in My Documents in the My Kindle Content folder.

    Try to open them with FBReader.

    The ones with DRM give you a can’t open because of DRM message. The ones that don’t, open.

    I imagine that you can do something similar with files on a real Kindle, but I haven’t tried that yet.

    Of the files on my PC, the “sample” books weren’t DRM’d and the others were.

  10. There are plenty of DRM free and free free books out there. I wrote a book, The Royble and put it on feedbooks. It might be rubbish but at least u dont have to pay £7 to find out

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