« Discussion

SURVEY: Will Eliminating DRM Alleviate or Promote Piracy?

By Edward Nawotka, Editor-in-Chief

To DRM or not to DRM, that is the question. And it’s been around since the beginning of e-books. Advocates sit on both sides of the debate. Generally speaking, one side says that DRM is merely an unnecessary impediment that is hindering the growth of e-reading and denies readers the right to share a book that they already own among multiple devices and formats. The other says that DRM is¬†necessary to protect intellectual property.

The implicit threat to eliminating DRM is piracy. Publishers do not want to take the risk of seeing their valuable property made accessible for free by anyone with an internet connection and the know-how to use a Torrent site. Advocates for eliminating DRM suggest that “piracy is a reaction to unmet demand” and that those who pirate books would not be people who would buy them in the first place and it will motivate people who might on occasion download a free book to buy it legitimately instead, knowing they have the freedoms of ownership.

Of course, there are differences, between the global East and West, North and South, and developed and developing e-book markets. On par, you can say that both sides are correct and there is no obvious answer to what is right.

Where do you stand on the question of what effect eliminating DRM would have on piracy in the global e-book market?


Please elaborate on your point of view in the comments.

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  1. Posted July 6, 2012 at 4:06 am | Permalink

    Selling a work with DRM is selling an “artificially inferior” version of it (some say “defective by design”).

    Once the customer finds out he’s restricted in the use against what he perceives would be his rights , he either stops buying (if the DRM status is clearly displayed), or goes to the “dark sides” of the net to find out how to bypass the DRMs, or download a “clean” copy.

    So, using DRMs in fact is counter-productive in that it educates customers in the “piracy ways”.

    “Softer” DRMs, such as watermarks is I think much better, in that it doesn’t restrict the effective use and private transfers the same way as full-blown DRMs do.
    It however also has some other defects, but it’s a lesser evil.
    I’ve mentionned it on my blog a few months ago :
    (Water)Marking : the “French” alternative

  2. Posted July 6, 2012 at 6:31 am | Permalink

    False dillema.

    Removing DRM will neither ellimate piracy nor necessary increase it.

    As most pirates never encounter DRM in the first place, removing DRM will merely treat legitimate customers with a sense of respect, allowing legitimate customers to backup and move ebooks from device to device without repurchasing.

  3. Posted July 6, 2012 at 7:29 am | Permalink

    P. Bradley Robb, your point regarding pirates not encoutering DRMs is spot on, but I think complementary to mine : legitimate customers who’ll encouter the wrong side of DRMs may be tempted to go pirate, hence increasing piracy.

  4. Posted July 6, 2012 at 10:12 am | Permalink

    The problem is that publishers and authors are rarely aware of pirated eBooks because the pirates create eBook sites that look legit; the buyer purchases them with a credit card or debit card or even Pay Pal, downloads the eBook and the pirates keep all the money. As soon as there is an inkling the site might not be legit, it vanishes and a new one reappears under another name. By and large they freely continue to operate out of Russia, Eastern Europe and China. DRM can’t defeat hacking–but it IS a sign that whoever is selling that particular eBook has invested serious money in the product and they have the technology to potentially track down their bogus commerce sites. Pirates love to shop at unprotected eBook catalogs because they only have to buy a title once to endlessly replicate it without fear of being traced. DRM and DRM-free is rather like comparing stores with locks on the door and stores with no doors at all.

  5. Posted July 6, 2012 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

    Let’s not forget: most book publishing revenue comes from non-trade books. DRM might usefully be removed from novels and from some, not all, trade non-fiction, but it’s not a good idea to remove DRM from books that serve audiences that have a long history of disrespect for IP.

    These discussions over-simplify by treating all the market segments as equivalent. $4,999 per copy (or per seat) professional reference works are entirely different than $4.99 per copy novels. The audiences use them differently. They infringe differently. And we need to work with them differently.

    Most hard-core pirates are infringing trade books. And that’s a problem for people who enjoy reading for pleasure, as well as for the tiny part of the business that serves them. It’s a problem for our culture.

    It’s important. It’s just not the whole picture.

  6. Posted July 7, 2012 at 9:05 am | Permalink

    Marion, Laura, you greatly overestimate the DRM’s strength. It takes at most a few minutes to download and set-up the software to bypass DRMs, and once done, removing DRMs from an ebook is as fast and easy as *SNAP*

    Laura, DRM / DRM-free is more a 1 inch fence than a locked door. Pirates will “loot” anything that they perceive has value (or “hoard” anything just for the collection), regardless of the DRM status.
    They don’t fear the copyright owners and stores. So DRM is useless against them.

    Marion, “audiences that have a long history of disrespect for IP” will keep on disrespecting IP, and will go past DRMs exactly the same way they cross the law/ethical divide : without giving it even a passing thought.

    I’m no pirate, I don’t trespass IP, but 1) I don’t buy DRMed books if I can, 2) I’ve set-up my e-library so that it transparently (effort/time) removes DRMs from the rare DRMed ebooks I buy.
    That set-up has taken me a full 10 minutes to install, and from now on, I’ve no problem anymore with stupid portability/perennity problems.

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