Alternatives To DRM E-book Technology Are In The Works

Booklovers who read e-books know that there are a few ways that digital reads are very different from ink and paper books. At the top of the list is that most e-books are more difficult to share and move across e-reading devices. These days, Digital Rights Management — commonly known as DRM — software, protects most e-books. However, DRM is not particularly popular with readers some e-publishing ventures are opting to skip the form of protection entirely. Thus the GiantSteps Media Technology Strategies is proposing that the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF) look at ways to revolutionize the way that digital content is protected by finding a middle ground between DRM and no protection at all.

DRM technology limits how digital content or devices are used, working to make sure that those uses are within the guidelines or parameters set by the company that sold the content to a user. DRM is mostly in place to stop piracy, the illegal act of copyright infringement, and preserve artistic control. However, this is not just an issue that affects those who download illegally, the Electronic Frontier Foundation has some really great examples of when you might run into problems with DRM:

There is some worry that removing DRM from e-books will cause widespread rise in piracy. Piracy not only devalues authors’ work, putting the monetary value for an e-read at “free.” It also undercut the profits of the publishing industry, affecting booksellers, publishers and authors. While there is currently some piracy going on, GiantSteps Media Technology Strategies says “breaking DRM acts as a ‘speed bump” that less determined users may judge not to be worth the trouble.” However, many readers dislike buying books that are protected by DRM because the software hinders moving a file, in this case an e-book, from one device to another. Not only is it difficult to share DRM-protected e-books, it is difficult to move them across separate devices, which is not only annoying for readers, but also makes ownership of digital books less concrete than ownership of print books.

Some publishers are beginning to recognize, and respond to, the problems DRM causes readers. Recently publishers Tor and Forge announced that beginning in July, all of their e-books will be DRM-free. Alternatively,, the website that sells digital versions of the Harry Potter series, has opted to “watermark” the books, so each digital copy can be tied back to a particular buyer, that way if a book is circulating illegally, it can be traced back to source. Moves like these illustrate that some publishers recognize the popularity and significance of e-books and are willing to accommodate readers in order to make downloading and reading e-books an easier, more enjoyable process. Furthermore, GiantSteps points out that DRM gives some e-Book distributors an avenue to “use of the technology to ‘lock in’ consumers.” The result being that if you buy a Kindle you are much more likely to purchase from Amazon, or buy a Nook and you’ll be purchasing with ease from Barnes & Noble but with difficulty if you prefer to patronize smaller e-book sellers.

GiantSteps suggest that IDPF hunt for a way to bridge the gap between reader and publisher interests by beginning a conversation about what would be necessary to create a Lightweight Content Protection, or LCP, for e-books. The proposed software won’t change how e-books are read, but it will change how e-books are purchased and moved across digital devices.

The proposed LCP would be a "lighter" DRM than is currently available. GiantSteps proposes that this type of protection would cost less to create, be easier to use, and be less restrictive on users. And this software, if and when it is created, could be used industry-wide. Among the benefits that the consulting company sees it that “would materially increase interoperability, ameliorate some of the ease-of-use limitations in current DRMs, and may promote broader adoption of digital reading.” Translation: LCP could improve the way that different systems, such as e-book from various platforms and e-reader devices, work together. LCP would also make it easier to read e-books and move them across devices. And the adoption of LCP software rather than the restrictive DRM might increase the number of people likely to try to read an e-book.

Publishers’ Weekly points out that such a software might not be used by all of the e-book sellers, it might be a big help to companies struggling to stay afloat in the e-book selling business. They say, “it would be in the interest of players with lower market share to congregate around a customer-friendly standard that lets readers buy from all over and read those ebooks where and how they wish.”

RT’s Whitney is particularly excited about this element of the LCP software. “As a former bookseller, I think that it’s important that we encourage competition in the market, and currently there is not a lot of that when it comes to the digital sellers market. It’s hard for an indie store, or even a small store, to compete against Amazon, B&N and Apple’s e-book store. So, my fingers are crossed that the publishing industry will figure out how to come up with LCP that allows for an easier e-purchasing experience across the board.”

GiantSteps is appealing to IDPF to “ solicit contributions of existing technology that could become the basis of a market-relevant solution for LCP within the next 12 calendar months or less.” Which means that we may soon be seeing the beginning of these changes.

If you are interested in learning more about LCP and why GiantSteps is advocating the creation of a new industry-wide standard e-book protection software, click here. IDPF is also looking for feedback and comments to be emailed by June 8. They say:

Comments are particularly solicited regarding the priority of this activity versus other potential IDPF-mediated projects. Also requested are comments on any additional high priority use cases and requirements not encompassed in this initial straw-man document, and regarding the overall desirability of a solution embodying the proposed requirements, or any standardized solution in this area.

For more details about what they are looking for and how to submit your thoughts, click here.

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