Saturday, July 05, 2008

BPN1149 Digital ex-libris as social DRM

There is some excitement in the e-book world. The publisher O’Reilly will create another sensation. From early July, and I believe that it will be on Thursday July 10, it will release DRM free e-books. And not only that. The publishing house will release them in PDF with two other formats (EPUB and Mobipocket), so that the user can put them on other platforms in the preferred format. So you buy one and get three. According to the announcement, O’Reilly will start with a small selection of seven e-books, followed by a few dozen later on, so that they can measure the effect. They will also sell through Amazon for the Kindle e-reader.

In the e-book world this is a big step, comparable to the music companies switching off DRM protection. In the music world this was only possible after that Apple had introduced iPod and iTunes, offering a huge library of songs, an acceptable price per song and per album as well as a reliable download facility. At once you did not have to download songs illegally any longer. This effect did not come about in the e-book world. Publishers are still scared of their e-books being copied illegally. And there is not an industry champion like Apple in the e-book world. Of course Amazon is fine candidate, but with the Kindle it has not provided a global device for downloading e-books, e-magazines and e-newspapers. More than half a year after the launch of the Kindle, the device has not reached Europe let alone the other continents.

But this announcement of free DRM and the sales through Amazon are not the only announcements. There is also another rumour going around. O’Reilly as publisher and conference organiser is considered to be the organisation that coined the word Web 2.0 and all social things that come with it like social media and social net. So the e-books will be free of technical DRM, but they will get a social DRM.

The technical DRM is linked as a technical facility to the publisher and/or machine. DRM products like music and e-books might be installed on an iPod or e-reader. But when you loose the iPod or e-reader you loose also all the songs and e-books for which you have paid. In most cases you could not make a home copy of them on your desktop computer. It might even get worse, when a provider stops the service, as users of Zune recently noticed when Microsoft announced not to support the format any longer beyond 2011. While you paid for that format, you will have to pay for a new one after 2011.

Social DRM is not a digital rights protection system in the proper sense. It is based on social control. Instead of having a technological protection on board, the first page of the e-book might bear the name and e-mail address of the buyer. Copies can be made, but the name and e-mail address of the first buyer will also be copied. Advantages of this system are that the reader can put the content on any device or machine, store a copy in his own library vault and does not have to worry about limited storage life.

Pragmatic programmers are doing social DRM already with their Pragmatic Bookshelf. You buy an e-book by credit card. A one-time copy is prepared for you with the indelible stamp bearing your name and credit card number. When you receive it you open it only one time with your name and credit card number.

The question remains whether it will work. Of course we know that technical DRM does not work and that copies are faster out of the production system and in the torrent system that legal copies. But with a digital ex-libris as a social DRM, the e-book world gets more civilised.

Blog Posting Number: 1149

Tags: DRM, social DRM

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