DRM, eBooks, and the ethics of eBook sharing

DRM, eBooks, and the ethics of eBook sharing

A few months back, I wrote a blog post talking about whether eBooks should have Digital Rights Management software, and stated that given the option, I’d prefer to buy DRM-free eBooks.

It turns out that Tor Books is of the same mindset – yesterday they announced that come July 2012, all Tor eBooks will thereafter be sold without DRM. This also applies to other imprints published by Tor’s parent, Tom Doherty Associates.

So what does this mean?

It means that publishers are starting to get the message that readers don’t want DRM on their files. I’d like to think that this would strengthen the viability of the ePub format against the Amazon onslaught, but I don’t know enough to make that prediction with certainty. It also means that publishers are starting to realize the futility of DRM – when a free program like Calibre is at your fingertips, it’s hard to argue that DRM offers a fool-proof anti-piracy method.

One big question remains: Will other publishers follow suit? I hope so, and soon. However, it makes sense that Tor, of all places, would be the torchbearer here. It’s an imprint that specializes in science-fiction – a genre that questions and comments upon how we use technology. Isn’t it fitting that a sci-fi imprint is the first one to recognize when a poor technology isn’t working and change courses in favour of a more rational alternative?

This is also the best time I can think of to introduce some new research I’m doing: I’m looking for authors, publishers, and eBook distributors to interview regarding the ethics of sharing eBooks.

I want to understand how various stakeholders in the ePublishing industry think about the prospect of sharing eBooks in the same way that people currently share print books. Is sharing considered a loss in current revenue (because that’s one less person who will pay for your book), or a herald of future revenue (because now your writing is on the radar of yet another reader).

The people I’ve spoken to so far are somewhat divided on the issue, but I want to hear more opinions. Are you interested? Have your own books been pirated? Email me or let me know in the commentsย  – the more viewpoints, the better.

Addendum: Here is an excellent, insightful article on why it makes sense for publishers to drop DRM.

3 thoughts on “DRM, eBooks, and the ethics of eBook sharing

  1. Alexandra

    Cannot say for the stakeholders in the ePublishing industry, but as a reader, as a user I can say that I’m greatly opposed to any attempts of restricting access to information. And those who strongly insist on DRM and such only succeed in waking up my competitive streak, which usually ends in my going and finding the pirated version and getting it for free just out of spite.

    Once upon a time I downloaded a couple of Garou’s songs off a site with pirated mp3. I listened to them, I loved them and came back for more. And then some more again. And then the next thing I knew was 6 CDs and a concert DVD on my rack.

    Thing is, there is no need to force me or restrict me in any way. I will always gladly pay for the product I like, even if I happen to already have access to it this way or another (friends lending a copy, downloading pirated stuff off the internet etc.) I buy CDs with the music and often buy actual printed versions of the books I loved despite the fact that I might already have them in electronic format. That’s because I feel that the person who made it has given me something precious and I want to give something back. This I do willingly and happily, and not because some corporation has forced me to pay by disallowing me to copy a file off my friend’s e-reader, for example.

    So, I guess that the question will be whether the publisher/author has any solid ground to stand on. If they are not sure of the quality of what they are selling, if they are not sure you would become a returning customer, then sharing would probably be the “one less person to pay” route for them. And if they believe that you would love what you buy and would be back for more, then letting people share stuff would probably be the “one more reader to gain” route.

    That’s the way I personally see it. Although I might be wrong, of course. ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. Christina Post author

      Hi Alexandra,

      I agree with your thoughts that DRM is unnecessary. However, I avoid getting a pirated copy of the same work. I have downloaded my fair share of music from filesharing sites, but for the past little while, I’ve been making a more concerted effort to pay for what I download because I now have the resources to do so. I’m lucky in that if I don’t feel like downloading something because it’s too expensive, my public library has a large selection of books to choose from. Otherwise, I do try to take advantage of options like Smashwords and DRM-free publishers like Weightless Books and Angry Robot Books.

      1. Alexandra

        The principle of not using pirated stuff I can absolutely understand and support. Conscience is the best auditor, after all, or so they say. ๐Ÿ™‚ There is no illegal software on my computer, for example. It’s a principle. And since I often cannot afford the expensive software, I have discovered lots of great opensource software which serves my purposes no worse than the expensive analogues. Just the same way you discovered the publishers that respect you as a responsible and honest human being. ๐Ÿ™‚

        This said, I personally don’t see much difference between borrowing books from a library and downloading them off your friends’ devices or filesharing sites, except maybe for some emotional aspect. Either way you don’t pay the publisher. Either way you can decide to buy your own copy of a book in case you liked it enough to want to own it. The way I see it, it’s only the question of taking and giving back. In the end, it all depends on a person. And maybe, just maybe, if we all were honest enough to always willingly give back when we got something, then DRM and other such technologies would just die their natural death. ๐Ÿ™‚