Tuesday, 14 December 2010

DRM…Does it Really Matter?

The argument goes on and the longer it does I am coming to the conclusion that DRM may be the idiot child we don’t like to talk about. By this I mean, that the point of DRM is actually misleading the industry. For years those in the pro-DRM corner argue that it wants to protect the rights (intellectual and artistic) of its authors and fight piracy. What are the realities of this stance?

How does DRM stop piracy? In reality it doesn’t. Any person with thirty seconds to spare can find freeware on Google to remove DRM from eBooks. What the real issue here is consumers rights to transfer the product between systems and machines. The industry wants to enforce license control. If a publisher can force a consumer to repurchase as a by-product of this action then ‘all the better’. Yet, how many in the pro-DRM corner can put their hands on their hearts and say they have never copied CD content to an iPod or taped a TV programme or passed a physical book to a friend or resold a book. We never own the content, we merely buy the license to view, read, listen or experience. I wonder if the industry has ever calculated the impact of book sharing against loss of potential sales.

I am not saying that there is not a real threat; and the area this ‘threat’ comes from is a new generation that has grown up seeing the Internet as nothing more than a free shop where digital content is never purchased. How much of the purchasing demographic are represented by these freeloaders is not known but it is significant. This is where the argument is both won and lost for DRM. In trying to shackle this group - who in reality will spend the thirty seconds or so needed to find freeware to break DRM - we are hand tying honest consumers who wish to purchase eBooks but swap them between machines and maybe even friends, in the same way we do with physical books.

It is strange that we have no qualms about people lending books to friends and giving them away once read. I think we will have to adopt the same mentality for eBooks. After all, word of mouth is one of the strongest forms of publicity available. Many pop groups have adopted the same thinking, knowing that they can build a fan base this way and that sales do actually follow. I am not advocating the wholesale piracy of eBooks, far from it; but being pragmatic. The industry needs to come to terms with a solution which is realistic enough to know that those who want to copy digital content (no matter if it is a book, film, news or music) will do so. The vast majority of us are law abiding citizens and realise that if revenue is severely impacted through outright piracy that there will be no money available for new talent to come through.

Where does that put the publisher and the author, both of whom want to ensure that they can sell eBooks at a price which encourages book lovers to purchase digital content? I as a publisher have no qualms with eBooks being swapped between as many machines as the purchaser owns. He/she should also have access to their content for as long as they wish with the ability to re-download as often as required. I do have issues with people copying and reselling content purely for their own financial gain thus depriving the publisher and author of making a fair living.

So, DRM...is it necessary? Can we adopt new methods which encourage file sharing without impacting on revenue? The industry must target the person who sees no wrong on copying content and reselling it and it is here that the law must also protect the industry and the author.


John McFetridge said...

Yes, this can be a tough issue. I now sometimes get e-books from the public library, so for me the books are free but the library does pay for them so the publisher and author still get paid for their work (and I get them online so I don't even have to leave the house). And most e-books are cheap, I've bought a couple of new release books lately for less than ten bucks.

So, it seems that whatever argument there was for piracy is gone. Likewise whatever argument there was for DRM is gone, too.

Some people will still pirate, but that doesn't seem like enough of a reason to inconvenience legitmate buyers. Might as wel let them do whatever they want with e-books once they've bought them.

Pauline Rowson said...

Good article, Darren. Books are sold second hand and the author never receives a royalty for that (apart from the royalty first time round)so the same applies for passing on books whether they be printed books or e books. Two of my crime novels as e books have been given away free during Read an e book week,as a promotion, and yet these books still sell both as physical books and increasingly as e books. Publishers also often give away physical books for promotional purposes and just look at how many are being given away free on World Book Night.Piracy is a problem and one which I have experienced but I guess it will always be there. As you say the vast majority of people are law abiding, thank goodness, and expect to pay for something they want to read and hopefully enjoy, and if they then share or recommend then great.