Outstanding paper on the impact of ebook DRM on readers, writers, publishers and distributors

In last summer's
Unlocking the Gates of Alexandria: DRM, Competition and Access to E-Books
, Ana Carolina Bittar of the Fundação Getulio Vargas Law School at São Paulo does an outstanding, thorough, and easily understandable job in explaining the ways in which ebook DRM ends up hurting writers, readers and publishers by shifting market power to the ebook vendors like Amazon, Google Play, Apple and B&N.

I missed this paper when it was first published. I read it this morning and was really impressed with it — it's as thorough and readable a summary of the technological, legal and economic changes that the book market undergoes once a retailer can use technology to tie books to its platform.

New technologies can often disrupt the balance between public and private interests in copyright law. For example, the Internet has facilitated the dissemination of artistic works by allowing users to mass distribute files within seconds. In response, the entertainment industry has turned to digital rights management (DRM) as one way of combating piracy. DRM is a technique that allows copyright owners to enforce their rights by controlling what users can do with their digital files, such as by restricting the platform on which the file can be accessed. In addition, the DRM scheme is protected by anti-circumvention laws, which prevent users from "breaking" the DRM. Although the main goal of DRMs is to prevent piracy, this technique can adversely impact other interests, such as privacy and fair use. This result is apparent in the e-book market, where it affects competition. More specifically, since each bookseller uses a different proprietary DRM scheme on their ebooks, compatible with a limited number of reading platforms, consumers face problems with interoperability. For example, a Kindle owner cannot buy books from Barnes & Noble, and a Nook owner cannot buy books from Apple. This lack of interoperability can increase barriers to entry, switching costs, and network effects. Consequently, consumers are often locked into an e-book ecosystem, which permits booksellers to act as gatekeepers of the e-book market. Moreover, this situation can undermine the potential of e-books to spread knowledge, promote literacy, and extend the reach of literature. Examining the effects of DRM in the e-book market, this paper will discuss the equilibrium between three different public policies: the protection of copyrighted works, the promotion of market competition and the fostering of a free and robust cultural environment.

Unlocking the Gates of Alexandria: DRM, Competition and Access to E-Books
[Ana Carolina Bittar/SSRN]

(Thanks, Jim!)