Saturday, March 26, 2011

Why Zero Sight Will Be Released DRM-free

Because DRM stinks.

No, seriously. DRM stinks. Digital Rights Management (DRM) refers to the anti-piracy measures embedded into an ebook's source code to protect it against illegal copying, printing, or file sharing. DRM is an optional feature for all ebooks, meaning authors decide whether or not to place DRM on their titles. The problem is DRM technology fails to protect against ebook piracy and causes headaches for the reading public.

DRM is like an electronic guard dog. It is designed to define how, when, and where you are allowed to read the ebook you just purchased. Adobe, Apple, Barnes and Noble, and Amazon all have unique DRM schemes. Amazon allows some sharing of DRM titles. Barnes and Noble allows perusal of DRM ebooks in their stores. Some versions of DRM limit how many devices an ebook can be viewed on. Others are particular about which device is doing the reading.

The cornucopia of ifs ands and buts drives me crazy. You've bought the darn ebook. You should be able to read it any way you darn please. If you want to print the book out, great. If you want to put it on a 3.5 floppy, load it onto an old Apple IIGS, and read it off a Jumbotron, that's your business. But DRM code prevents you from doing much of anything. It defines how you may (or may not) enjoy the ebook you purchased. But that's not the worst of it.

Remember these?

To the uninitiated, you're looking at something called a Betamax tape. Once upon a time, Sony developed them so you could watch movies at home. This was cool. The people rejoiced. But worried that Sony would corner the market, JVC developed a competing format. They called theirs VHS. The two formats were not compatible with one another. You needed a unique type of VCR to play each one.

Since VCRs were super expensive, you had to choose a side. A great battle erupted. Sony and JVC fought over the home VCR market for quite a few years. Many consumers bought Betamax players because of the high quality of the recordings. Others chose VHS because you could record longer on their tapes. Eventually things went sideways. Betamax lost too much market share, and the movie industry stopped producing Betamax tapes. Owners of Betamax players were left out in the cold. They either had to re-buy their entire movie library or keep their giant Betamax players plugged in next to their newer VHS players.

Fast-forward a few years.

Remember these guys?

LaserDiscs. Now those things were awesome. They were the future of home video: No-loss recordings. Dozens of subtitle tracks. No rewinding. Sure they were expensive—but they were going to last forever. And the discs did, but the LaserDisc market didn't. DVD players came out and replaced them. And then Blu-ray players came out to replace the DVD players. And now electronic streaming is on the horizon...

This trend is a bummer. You buy something, the technology changes, and then you have to buy the content all over again. My concern is that some e-readers could face the same fate. E-readers are new technology, and the course of new technology is notoriously unpredictable. What if Borders goes under? What if Amazon stops selling the Kindle? What will happen to all those ebooks you purchased? Do you have to buy them all over again?


If your ebooks are DRM-free, they can be backed up and saved forever.

If your ebooks are DRM-laden, you may be re-buying some ebooks.

But doesn't that sound odd? If the e-reader you picked turns out to be destined for the dustbin of history, why aren't you be able to take all the ebooks you purchased with you to the new device? They're electronic files. What's the big deal?

The big deal is authors want to protect their work. They've spent years writing and editing those novels. The idea that the product of their sweat and tears could be uploaded onto a torrent site and sent out to millions of non-paying readers is distressing. That's money that should be in their threadbare pockets, right? Why on earth wouldn't they endorse DRM?

Fair point. I feel their pain. I too would like to be paid for my hard work. But DRM does a terrible job protecting authors. Any hacker with a C- in C++ can crack DRM encryption. Heck, the real thieves have programs that can shred DRM protection off hundreds of ebooks at once. The hard truth is that DRM fails to achieve its stated goal. DRM doesn't reduce the rate of ebook piracy. (Check out a few torrent sites if you don't believe me.) It only succeeds in making paying customers' lives difficult. You're denying them the ability to format the ebook's text to their liking. You're denying them portability. You're essentially punishing them for purchasing your novel.

And that, my friends, is bad for business.

So I'm saying no to DRM. All copies of Zero Sight will be released DRM-free.

But please don't pirate it. You'll make Rei angry.



Anonymous said...

Wouldn't want to make Rei angry!
Seriously, thanks for explanation.

Anonymous said...

Great job explaining the issue Brian and thanks for consideing the consumer!

Anonymous said...

I think Paul wrote the second comment. Any bet takers? ^_^

Vodswyld said...

You are right that is very easy to sidestep around with just a touch of the right knowledge. As a programmer, allow me to explain why this is.

Programs written in any of the high level languages (C++, C#, Java, Python, etc...) translate down into a language called Assembly. There are very few commands in Assembly, because Assembly is basically just the hardwired commands in your processor.

Any kind of logic and decision making in the program is done using "If" type statements. If this, do that. If that, do those. Any kind of DRM ends up coming down to a single If statement somewhere in the code. "If X arbitrary condition is met, allow opening the file.". So what a code cracker would do is take the above statement and change it to "If X arbitrary condition is not met, allow opening the file.". Tada! Now if the DRM fails to authenticate, the file opens!

Now, breaking past things like encryption and all is harder, but it uses the same kind of theory for much of it.

Anonymous said...

And you could do it the hard way, meaning that you use camera or print screen option to take pictures and read those.

Anonymous said...

Can i buy the zero series in print?

B. Justin Shier said...

ZS isn't in print yet. That'll be my summer project.


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