Thursday, June 12

DRM: The Antagonist of Ebooks?

I'd be hard-pressed to explain the ins and outs of Digital Rights Management "DRM" for the specific reason that I don't fully understand it. From what I comprehend, DRM provides restrictions on digital content, to help deter piracy and illegal sharing. It also means that the media in question is not in complete ownership of the customer. Instead, the distributor is able to control the content, and is more of a lender than a retailer.

In the world of reading, this pertains to digital books: ebooks and audio books. Paperback purists aside, plenty of readers find ebooks to be convenient and easy to use. There are several perks to having an ereader. They are easily accessible, lightweight, and ebooks can be purchased at all hours, with immediate delivery. It is a portable library at your fingertips. Despite all of my previous paperback purist fuelled prejudices to digital books, I love ebooks and even more so, audio books. Yet, it is perturbing that I do not own them in the same way that I would a physical volume.

It is no secret that Amazon holds the monopoly on digital books, and not without good reason. They have utilised a much needed market, and are the retailer that several – myself included – turn to above all others, simply out of convenience. Only, with DRM in the equation, how many of the books I have purchased from them do I actually own?

I understand the concept behind DRM. One of the biggest fears of books being digitised was that they would be open to the same vulnerabilities that films and music have faced. By making it harder to share content online, you help to protect the author and publisher's rights.

Only, there are several other factors that come into play. Using Amazon's Kindle as an example – as I am unfamiliar with the terms and restrictions of other retailers – there are certain ebooks you can lend out to another user for a single two week period. During that period, the book cannot be accessed by the owner. Sometimes the book is taken away from the borrower before the two week period it up, yet is still unable to be accessed by the lender. It is an infuriating glitch. Audio books cannot be loaned at all.

Then there is the fact of regional restrictions. Certain books can only be purchased in certain countries. Does this mean that when I leave the US I will no longer have access to my digital library? I lost my fair share of iTunes music when I moved from The Netherlands, and that is a lot of money down the drain. To top it off, Amazon (or any digital book retailer that uses DRM) can theoretically moderate any material it chooses, as is indefinitely loaning me the content for a set price. It's not a happy thought, particularly in relation to my extensive Audible library.

In the end, I am of two minds about digital books and digital rights management. The pessimist in me is incredulous that I don't technically own what I have paid for. The optimist rationalises that I pay equal and greater amounts to rent or consume other products and media temporarily.

I don't know anywhere near enough about digital rights management, so I'm still forming my opinion. It is something I aim to educate myself on more in future.

What are your thoughts on DRM?

1 comment:

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