The Surprising Controversy about DRM

Pont des Arts in Paris

On bridges spanning the Seine in Paris and the canals of Venice, lovers place padlocks engraved with their names and throw away the keys. These colorful love locks create a touching testament to the promise of an unbreakable bond.

Don’t you wish you had such a lock on your writing?

Authors worry about piracy, particularly of their ebooks. I know I do. Every time I search my novel’s title COYOTE WINDS, I find sites offering a free or one cent downloads. I could waste a lot of time sending DMCA take-down notices.

Pont des Arts in Paris

It’s easy on a technical level for pirates to resell your ebook, especially if your ebook does not contain DRM, short for Digital Rights Management. DRM stands for any software or hardware device that deters unauthorized copying or viewing of content, such as e-books, music, and film. It is the lock and key for digital copyrighted material.

If you publish your e-book through KDP, then you have the option of adding DRM to your work or not. But SmashWords and other e-book publishers and distributors will not accept e-books with DRM. Surprised? I was.

DRM is controversial. You wouldn’t think so. You work months or years on a book. Of course, you put a lock on it to protect it against unauthorized copying and piracy. You lock your home and your car—why not your intellectual property?

Mark Coker, founder of SmashWords, explained his reasons for discouraging DRM on his BLOG:

  • Printed books never die. They are lent to friends, donated to libraries, and sold as used books, and no one calls that piracy. Why impose tighter restrictions on e-books?

  • “Obscurity is a bigger threat to authors than piracy.” I heard Mark say these words at a conference, and despite my dreams of being a New York Times best-selling author, I have to admit he is correct. I have given away hundreds of books intentionally, so maybe a few more are being given away unintentionally. The more people read my books, the more likely word-of-mouth will spread. And let’s face it, word-of-mouth sells books.
  • The vast majority of readers are willing to pay a fair price for a good read. True, so far. I wonder how long that will last as we grow more accustomed to obtaining reading material on the Internet for free.
  • DRM doesn’t work. Remember when the music industry tried to control unauthorized downloads by adding DRM? Remember people getting arrested? Well, that blew up in the face of the music industry as more people began to download music illegally out of spite, and software geeks proved getting around DRM was a piece of cake. DRM doesn’t stop the crooks. Of course, people say the same about locking one’s house, but I still do it.

Some people worry that not applying DRM to their intellectual property is equivalent to donating their work to the public domain. Legally speaking, no. You still own the copyright. But I recommend authors put a copyright notice and “All Rights Reserved” near the front of their e-books to put the world on notice of ownership.  And register your work with the U.S. Copyright office within three months after publication to maximize potential recovery.

What are your thoughts about DMR? Should there be stronger protection for ebooks?

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One response to “The Surprising Controversy about DRM”

  1. An apt choice of comparison: the bridge is being destroyed by the weight of the locks – they are trying all kinds of things to get people not to leave them there.

    Ditto DRM.

    We saw a recent documentary about all the damage the locks have done already (they rust). One Zebra mussel is an interesting critter. Hundreds of thousands (or is it more?) of them are clogging the great lakes.

    Actions have consequences, as does following the herd and doing what everyone else is doing.

    DRM 1) doesn’t work, and 2) annoys the heck out of legitimate customers who paid for their book. Way to go, folks.


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