The Devils In The DRM

If you’re interested in my writing posts then skip this one, if you want to read a rant then carry on!

I obviously have a keen interest in technology since I work with it every day and it never ceases to amaze me how different companies/groups make the same mistakes as others and never seem to learn from them.  In this case I’m talking about book publishers eBooks and their insistence on going down the same route as Music and Movie studios.

Music publishers seem to believe that you should pay the same for a physical thing as a non-physical thing.  For instance, on Amazon the new ‘Now 79’ album is £10.99 for the physical version and £10.99 for the MP3 version (apparently a saving of nearly £30 compared to buying all the songs separately!).  Why would I do that when I can buy the album and then just rip it and still have the physical copy (except ripping it is actually illegal in the UK at the moment)?  What makes the digital copy worth the same (or £40 if you download them individually)?  Still, at least they’re DRM free these days and I can install them on multiple devices, but perhaps more people would buy them if they charged a reasonable amount – perhaps £7 for the download.  That would likely stop a lot of people buying the CD, ripping it and then sticking it on ebay.  Or just obtaining the torrent.  No I don’t do either by the way.

Now the movie industry takes a different view.  We can’t be trusted with digital copies.  I can rent a movie for 24 hours, but I can’t keep it.  Some movies do come with a digital copy, but it’s generally encoded for something like an iPod, but I don’t want that.  I want the full on rum and raisin HD full surround sound version with extra nuts and chocolate sauce just like the disc.  I also don’t want my children sticking their mits all over my pristine copy of Babylon 5 either.  What I’d really like is to buy a digital download that is a decent resolution or to have the digital version for me on the disc I buy.

And I don’t want to use the disc anyway, I use windows media centre and I want all my files available on that – I don’t want to hunt for the disc for 5 minutes and find that it’s covered in jam.  I want all my series there ready, I want all my films categorised and ready for action.  This leaves me with 2 alternatives :

1.  Download digital copies (illegal)

2.  Strip the DRM off the discs and create a digital copy (illegal)

Hmmmmm.  Well, I have the right to take a backup copy of my discs and I’ll do so and I can leave the DRM in place since it’ll play on any DVD player.

eBooks are the same and in some ways worse.  My wife used to own a Sony reader and had bought a fair number of books.  Then she swapped to a Kindle and of course she can’t use the books she purchased for the Sony.  The answer – well, you’ll just have to buy it again.

Excuse me?  And before anyone says ‘that’s just the same as VCR to DVD’, well no it isn’t – different platform, different quality, better audio.  An eBook is an eBook.  It’s the same book just encoded differently.  Would you buy a car that could only be filled at a BP station?  Or a DVD that could only be played in a Sony?  Or a washing machine that you could only use Persil in?  No.  What’s needed here is a common DRM platform that all the manufacturers support.  Or no DRM.

I can almost see the execs shaking in their chairs at that thought.  But consider this – a well-known author refused to allow their books to be produced in eBook format because of the fear of piracy.  And as a consequence within hours of the release of a book it’s on torrent sites being downloaded by people who would have paid for the eBooks had they been given the choice.  DRM is the same, it can be removed from eBooks instantly with no fuss.  Again, illegal, but given the situation with the different formats is it any wonder that it happens?  I understand why DRM makes them feel all warm and snuggly but underneath it’s just false comfort as it doesn’t stop anything.   Don’t believe it’s that easy?  Google it.

The price is another issue.  My wife commented the other day how the price of eBook pre-orders for some things has gone through the roof and Amazon are quoting the same price for an eBook as the hardback.  Now I don’t know if this is some sort of eBook effect (more readers, prices rise) or its the publishers being less than rational but I suspect the latter since it’s not the same for all eBooks.  What exactly do they expect to gain by this?  Well, it won’t be more sales that’s for sure as the same rule applies, price it too high and people will acquire it from ‘dubious sources’.  Price it right and what you lose in the price will be more than made up by the quantity.

And just to make it clear, no I don’t share my collections of anything with anyone, torrent or otherwise.  Just to be crystal clear on that one.

To end on a positive note though I’d like to plug Calibre.  Not the alcohol free lager, the eBook library manager.  If anyone has an eBook reader and doesn’t use Calibre get over to and take a look.  It manages your entire collection, downloads metadata for it, converts between different formats (non-DRM), allows the use of collections and the best thing for Kindle owners – if you have non-DRM ebooks and hate that Kindle doesn’t sync where you’ve read to on multiple devices (in my wife’s case Kindle and Android phone) it allows that to work – just convert any files into Mobi format and place on both devices (if they’re already Mobi use Calibre to reconvert them to put the relevant info in the file).  It’s a fantastic application that’s developed rapidly and it’s free.


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