Ebooks do not need DRM.
Authors do not need it and nor do ebook readers.
The warning signal about the evils of Digital Rights Management (DRM) came as far back as 2009.
Way back then, in a twist of irony, Amazon secretly removed all copies of George Orwell’s 1984 from readers’ Kindles.
And, these were copies of 1984 in ebook format that Amazon customers had legally bought and paid for in good faith.
There was no fault on the part of readers. It was a copyright holder issue that Amazon managed to mess up.
If you think DRM is all about copyright law that protects authors, forget it. It has nothing to do with intellectual property rights or to prevent unauthorized copying.
It is all about how retailers control your access to a digital copy of any form of digital media that you buy.
DRM is used for music files such as on the iTunes store as well as for Amazon Kindle for PC, Mac, and Kindle devices.
Microsoft says thank you and goodbye to ebooks
Fast forward to today, and nothing has changed. DRM is still all about the control of digital content sold by online retailers.
In case you missed the news, Microsoft decided to close its ebook store. But for readers who bought ebooks from Microsoft, there is good news and bad news.
The good news is that they can get a refund on the books they purchased. And the bad news? The books they bought will be wiped, erased, and disappear from their reading devices and will never be seen again.
This is the sad result of DRM technologies. If there were no DRM systems working on Microsoft, it could have closed its store. But readers could have kept their ebooks.
Remember that DRM has nothing to do with copyrighted materials. It is only about copy protection for retailers.
It is not a tragedy for Microsoft customers. They will get their money back.
But the Internet is a vast space for continual change and so many sites come and go.
Smaller, and less well funded, retailers than Microsoft can and have closed up shop overnight. As a result, buyers can be left both out of pocket and lose their ebooks.
Right so, so long, and thanks for the fish!
Digital restrictions don’t work
Are you an author and publishing a Kindle book? Don’t think that Amazon’s protect media DRM on your book will help you.
Anyone with half an ounce of technical ability can find DRM removal tools such as a DRM removal plugin for ebook software. They can then remove DRM from ebooks in 30 seconds for any copyrighted works.
DRM won’t protect you from copying or file sharing. Nor will it limit the number of copies a determined ebook thief can make.
It is not much different from a print book. You have no way to control people who scan and copy your book in pdf.
Don’t have any thoughts about retailers trying to protect your work. It is worth reading about the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).
The interesting part is the DMCA’s principal innovation in the field of copyright. It is the exemption from direct and indirect liability of Internet service providers and other intermediaries.
In other words, online ebook retailers are not using DRM to protect the copyright of authors.
There is no security for buyers
You don’t buy an ebook. You rent it.
You only buy the rights to read it as long as the retailer allows you to do so. So forget about giving a copy to your grandchildren.
It doesn’t matter where you buy or what reading apps you use. When you buy any media file that is DRM protected, it can be taken away from you at any time.
You might think that your Kindle library will be safe forever. But are you sure?
Nook owners in the UK found out how DRM worked against them. It happened when Barnes & Noble sold its ebook business to Sainsbury’s, a supermarket chain. Many UK Nook owners ended up with worthless devices.
However, six months later, Sainsbury’s closed their newly acquired ebook store and told customers to go to Kobo.
In 2014, the Sony Reader store closed down. Remember that Sony was the company that pioneered ebooks. All Sony customers were directed to Kobo. But now, Kobo has announced that it is ending all support for their Sony ebook customers.
Over the years, many smaller online ebook stores have closed down. In some cases, it meant the loss of purchased ebooks.
Even without a retailer closing down, your ebooks are not yours to own.
If you own a Kindle, Amazon can remove access to ebooks you have legally purchased. Your Kindle serial number is linked to your purchases, so it is easy for Amazon to erase all your ebooks.
It reserves the right to do so under its terms and conditions of use.
Ebooks on the Apple iBooks store are DRM protected and are sold on similar terms to Amazon. You don’t own the ebooks you buy.
While it might never happen to you, it is important to know that your ebooks are not yours to own. It is hardly the most reassuring thought for next time you buy an ebook from a major online retailer.
DRM in the wild
For authors and readers, there is no value at all in digital protection.
It offers no protection for the author’s rights, nor for a reader’s right to own what they have legally purchased.
It’s a monstrous con and a phony excuse used by retailers to protect their walled gardens and profit.
When you publish with Amazon KDP, DRM is set by default. You need to hover to get a short explanation and then change the tick box to remove DRM.
However, Amazon doesn’t make it easy for book buyers to know if an ebook is DRM protected or not.
You have to look at the product details and check if lending is possible.
If lending is not enabled, the ebook is DRM protected.
Other platforms are more open. Kobo, in particular, makes it very clear in its product details that it sells DRM free ebooks.
Smashwords is another retailer that sells books DRM free. But you need to check its FAQ’s to find the details. Here is the relevant clause.
But this only applies to the Smashwords store and its complying retailers. If you aggregate an ebook to iBooks for instance, DRM will be applied by Apple.
What can you do?
Are you a self-publishing author? You can try to help your readers by offering your books without DRM on your retailers.
As a safeguard, you should also make sure that you have saved copies of your ebooks in open file formats. You can do this by using Calibre to convert your manuscript into epub and mobi files.
Saving your ebook to your Calibre library is the best insurance you can have. Never rely on your retailer’s copy, which could be DRM protected.
With your Calibre files, you can offer your ebooks in many ways, including as an ebook download from your website.
Unless you are enrolled in Amazon KDP Select, you are free to distribute your ebooks in any manner you wish.
For ebook buyers, purchasing DRM free ebooks is the best decision you can make. Kobo and Smashwords are the two best choices.
Have you bought DRM free ebooks? You can also use Calibre to import them and make a secure backup library of all the books you purchase.
You should never rely on your reading device to preserve your ebook purchases. Even for DRM free ebooks.
Be careful if you use a proprietary device, such as a Kindle or Nook. You are leaving yourself open to changes that retailers can make to your device and its content.
Play it safe. Create a secure backup of the books you buy to your computer hard drive, or to your cloud storage.
For both authors and readers, DRM is not a good idea. There is no benefit for either.
It does not stop ebook pirating and copying, so it offers no protection for author rights. It does not protect a reader’s purchase. In fact, it makes it more vulnerable to loss.
It is a system of control over reading that would make George Orwell roll in his grave. The ability to arbitrarily remove books from readers is a concept right out of 1984.
Can you imagine if the same awful process was available to retailers for print books?
Turn your back on DRM, and say no when you publish or buy ebooks.