Bitten by DRM

I have always known that DRM was a Bad Idea(tm). But only recently I have actually been bitten by the nasty consequences of DRM. Well, theoretically at least :)

DRM comes in many forms and for several types of content. This little piece is about DRM on eBooks. I started reading eBooks on a trusty Palm device (an m100, to be followed by a m105 and finally a Tungsten E2) and despite the small screen this worked quite well. During that time I bought several eBooks at a company called eReader, which conveniently had a fairly large collection of English books to choose from at a reasonable price (in particular compared to dead tree versions in the Netherlands). The books were “protected” by DRM, meaning that you would have to enter your name and creditcard number to “unlock” the book. This was actually fairly clever; I assume the reasoning was that most people would be unwilling to share the eBook together with their creditcard information on file-sharing platforms. This meant that they did not need draconian measures to bind the eBook to a certain device; the eBook could be read on any platform for which the eReader software was available. The fairly wide range of supported platforms (10) made the scheme they used reasonable, or at least, workable.

But now, that has changed, or at least, the outlook seems to have changed. A few weeks ago I received an e-mail from eReader.com stating that

“eReader.com is in the process of winding down its operations. eReader.com will end sales on December 4, 2012 and you will not be able to access your eReader.com Bookshelf through the site after January 31, 2013.”

On the accompanying FAQ page I find I cannot transfer my eReader eBooks to a modern platform or format because I am an international customer:

“We will only be able to provide the transfer option to customers who have a valid credit card with a billing address in the United States and the United Kingdom. If you do not have a valid credit card with a billing address in the United States or the United Kingdom, you should backup your files by downloading any of your past purchases that you are interested in reading in the future. If you haven’t done so already, you have until January 31, 2013 to complete this process.”

I assume that the eReader software will remain available on the website, but it will probably no longer be maintained and no new client software will be published for new platforms. This means that as software platforms move on and without a (legal) way to convert my eBooks to a modern platform, my options for for (re)reading the eBooks I once bought will slowly dwindle. That is quite inconvenient!

Ok, that was the theoretical part. Of course, the thing about DRM, once someone figures out how to get to the content, this knowledge is easily shared with the rest of the world. And luckily, this already happened for eReader’s eBook format. A small piece of Python code is floating on the Internet that can convert your eReader eBook to an open eBook format, which, combined with Calibre (an eBook management program), can be converted to the format of your liking. With the help of that Python script I have been able to put my eReader eBooks on my Kindle device, allowing me to move on.

So, even though in practice the DRM problem can often be solved by jumping through a couple of hoops, DRM stifles innovation and limits the options for consumers. In addition, history has shown us that it is not unheard of for legally bought content to become unavailable when content providers go belly-up. This is why I support publishers that sell their books DRM-free and in closing would like to mention a couple of publishers in this regard: