New ebook DRM isn't just easy to break, it makes no legal sense

"Lost in Translation," my latest Publishers Weekly column, looks at SiDiM, a new DRM scheme developed by the German Booksellers Association and the Fraunhofer Institute (with funding from the German government). The idea is to produce random variations in the text of ebooks so that each customer's ebook can be uniquely identified.

As I point out, this is an old and long-discarded idea, trivial to break (just compare two copies of the book); but more importantly, it rests on the silly idea that finding "my" copy of an ebook being shared illegally will somehow be bad for me:

The idea that copyright owners might convince a judge, or, worse, a jury that because they found a copy of an e-book on the Pirate Bay originally sold to me they can then hold me responsible or civilly liable is almost certainly wrong, as a matter of law. At the very least, it’s a long shot and a stupid legal bet. After all, it’s not illegal to lose your computer. It’s not illegal to have it stolen or hacked. It’s not illegal to throw away your computer or your hard drive. In many places, it’s not illegal to give away your e-books, or to loan them. In some places, it’s not illegal to sell your e-books.

So at best, this new “breakthrough” DRM scheme will be ineffective. But worse, what makes anyone think this kind of implicit fear of reprisal embedded within one’s digital library is acceptable, or, for that matter, preferable to old-school DRM?

Lost in Translation

Notable Replies

  1. Umm ... did you even read the article you linked to? It was a default judgement. The accused never showed up in court. It doesn't represent any kind of judgement on the merit of the case.

  2. I love the fact that, if you have purchased many eBooks, somebody stealing your laptop can become a tremendous financial liability to you, which can potentially bankrupt the average person.

    Unfortunately, I see only one solution to this very real and profound danger, don't buy ever eBooks. Doing so could literally destroy your life. Simply not worth the risk.

    The only safe course, ironically, is piracy.

  3. This is little different than the idea of putting watermarks in music. I've had two music collections stolen.

    If the copyright owner can hold me responsible or civilly liable when they obtain my stolen books or music on the internet, then can I have them charged with possession of stolen property?

  4. I think the yahoos who come up with this kind of clatter give even less of a fuck about the author's artistic integrity than they do about the actual illegality of their bullshit.

  5. I like the ebook DRM scheme best where they put something like "Personal copy of "buyer's name" into the book, right next to the page numbers in the page footer. This doesn't involve cumbersome crypto DRM that requires special plug-ins or readers to access and makes the buyer aware of the added risk of sharing his copy with others.

    It makes the buyer aware that he owns a personally licensed copy and it creates some level of burden to remove this visible watermark before sharing his copy.

    Still there are legal ways to share ebooks (let's say, lend your ebook reader device to a friend) and just locating someone's copy circulating on the net shouldn't be grounds for suing. In other words: such DRM schemes should not put the buyer in the position where he has to prove that he did not willfully make the copyrighted works available for download.

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