At the risk of banging on: at the FutureBook conference last year, I asked the room if anyone believed DRM was effective in reducing piracy. One person was prepared to say they did, but I'm not sure they weren't kidding. And now there's this: The Ion Booksaver is a consumer device priced at $189 which the manufacturer says can scan a 200 page book in 15 minutes. 

The results will, no doubt, be patchy, and the legality of such scanning is open to question - though I beg you on my knees not to get into that particular sinkhole - but the reality is beyond doubt. The overwhelming majority of books - as with CDs - are sold in a conventional format without any kind of digital protection. Short of printing books on laminated red polarised card or making them out of combustible flashpaper which explodes if you put it near an electronic scanner, the issue of copy protection has surely been outpaced by a physical technology, as it was always going to be.

Can we please look at the alternatives and use them? Because there is no more pitiable position than a hard line you cannot enforce. 



It has been demonstrated over

It has been demonstrated over and over again that DRM is an irritant that is destined to impede eBook sales as long as it exists. That some people still believe it has any affect on piracy or lending is a reminder of the people that still believe that paper is warmer, cosier and altogether the only way to read a good novel .... 

Unfortunately Mike Shatzkin recently blogged that he and many of his colleagues believe it protects titles and impedes sharing. I wrote a detailed response to his survey on his blog but like so many inside he industry he could not be bothered reading opposing views.


Philip Jones's picture

Hi Nick, Happy New Year. I take the DRM argument, but I'm not sure this is a DRM buster. The Endgadget review was pretty scathing, and apparently you have to lift the entire machine in order to turn a page. It's a whole different world from burning a CD onto my hard-drive and unleashing the content. So far anyway . . .


Nick Harkaway's picture

Good grief, what a lousy bit of kit. Well, all the same, I think the point stands - it's just a question now of someone making a decent one.

DRM ise OK

DRM is not meant to be infallible, but it should exist as a reminder that books are copyrighted intellectual property. 

It is true that there are always ways to crack a DRM, but not every reader will invest time in doing it. Eliminating it would make piracy too easy- almost an invitation to do it. 

Finally, e-piracy is not equivalent to scanning or photocopying books since the latter requires physical activity, while the former takes just a few clicks. The mere idea of scanning 300 pages and sorting out files is exhausting!


Nick Harkaway's picture

Herman -

I'm not sure that DRM as a reminder is a huge help. The downsides of it are pretty significant for the consumer; I think it mostly features as an irritant when you want to view a given ebook on a given platform or in a given reader and you can't because the file is not compatible etc etc. 

I'm pretty sure the Ion scanner doesn't require you to turn the pages by hand or assemble a document from individual scanned files, but I admit I haven't played with it... but my point was not that everyone who wants to get hold of an ebook file will scan the book in question, but rather that scans will happen with ever greater facility and speed, meaning that non-DRM copies will be easy to come by. At which point it becomes easier and more satisfying to get a product from illegitimate sources and we lose ground to the torrent culture.

What alternatives do you have

Starry's picture

What alternatives do you have in mind, exactly?


Nick Harkaway's picture

I've written about this elsewhere, but I think the only way to beat illegitimate downloads is to make the legit market better and to offer a seamless, simple, attractive buying/owning experience. I like the idea of reward and loyalty schemes, publishers branding themselves to create actual loyalty and get customers to feel invested. I'm keen on a referral scheme where if I have a book and I persuade you to get a copy I can 'sell' it to you with my device and take a small cut, so that consumers are invested in the concept of book value - and we get a distributed sales network free of charge. I've mentioned social DRM, which is more interesting to me than straightforward locking. I've discussed bundling digital copies with paper, about enhanced editions and apps. And I've talked about the need to mount a serious effort to sell IP as a concept and as a real thing whose demise has consequences for everyone, because ultimately - short of a really quite alarmingly Orwellian environment - the only way to enforce IP is if everyone consents to it and invests in it.

But if you mean alternatives in the sense of 'things which will prevent people from making or distributing illegitimate copies' I don't think there are any. 

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