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Why DRM Is Like Airport Security

While flying home from Bologna for our TOC event I couldn't help but think about some of the similarities between digital rights management (DRM) and airport security.  Here are a few common points that come to mind:

False sense of security -- Seriously, does anyone today still believe any DRM system is hackerproof?  Heck, even books that have never been legally distributed in any e-format are out there as illegal downloads.  Just Bing the phrase "harry potter ebook downloads" and you'll see what I mean.  Scanners are everywhere, so if physical books can be illegally shared what makes you think a DRM'd title will never appear in the wild?  On the airline side, I feel like we're always focusing on the last attack (e.g., underwear bomber, shoe bomber, etc.) and not focusing instead on what the next idiot will try.

Treats everyone like a criminal -- It's hard not feeling like a convict when you're going through airport security or coming back through immigration/customs.  The assumption is you're guilty till proven innocent by way of xray machines, full-body scans and patdowns.  On the book side, the fact that I can't treat my ebook purchase like I can my print book ones (e.g., can't be resold or lent to a friend indefinitely) makes me feel like the retailer and publisher simply don't trust me.

Highly inefficient -- DRM is such an enormous waste of time.  The only players coming out ahead are the DRM technology providers!  I now have two Kindles and an iPad.  In order to move content from one to the other I have to go through Amazon so they can make sure I'm not breaking the rules.  What if I don't have a web connection at that moment?  I'm stuck and can't shift that book from my battery-depleted iPad to my Kindle.  What's wrong with just connecting the two devices via Bluetooth?  Not an option.  And look at the crazy lines at the airport as well as the inconsistencies from location to location (e.g., take your shoes off here but not there, remove your iPad here but not there, etc.)

Introduces silly limitations -- The best airport example is the simple bottle of water.  Remember the good old days when all you had to do was take a swig of your water bottle to show TSA it's a harmless liquid?  I miss those days.  Here again, the bottled water industry must be laughing all the way to the bank as we toss half-full bottles on one side of security and then have to buy new ones on the other side.  In the book world DRM means that lending a copy, something easily done in physical world, comes with way too many restrictions in the e-world (e.g., two-week max, can only be done once in the life of the title, etc.)

OK, I admit that I don't have a solution to offer the airline industry.  I don't want to board a plane with a terrorist any more than you do.  A pilot friend of mine made an interesting comment about this awhile back though.  He pointed out that one of the results of 9/11 is that passengers are no longer willing to be helpless victims.  The shoe and underwear bomber events are examples of just how true this is.

IOW, passengers are stepping in to fill the holes that will always exist in even the best airport security system.  I suggest we follow a similar approach but take it a step further in the publishing world: Eliminate DRM and trust our customers to not only do the right thing but also ask them to turn in anyone they see making/offering illegal copies.



Yup, it's ridiculous. I remember the first CD I bought that tried to prevent me from ripping it on my computer - I was incensed. At the time I thought I OWN this CD and I should be allowed to do what ever I legally want with it. Email it to a friend, put it on my husband's and son's ipod etc.

The problem seems to be rooted in copyright. That particular industry has always had an unhealthy phobia of innovation. They were panicked when photocopiers and then scanners came on the market envisioning that people would shut down their industry by distributing photocopied books.

DRM is an epic failure for all the reasons you list above and the only solution is to reinvent the publishing model and industry entirely.

Kevin Gao

joe - one of the better solutions i've heard (and we as an ebook publisher are implementing) is to automatically stamp each pdf/ebook with the author's name and email address as a social control. that way, at least the purchaser will think twice before uploading to a torrent site or distributing on email lists...

Claude Bouchard

As a currently self-published author who now has representation, my goal is to build an audience for the future. That said, if some people are lending my books, whether it's print versions or e-books to others, I'm willing to give up the lost royalties in exchange for developing a fan base.

church loans

Your rights in handling an ebook really should be comparable to your rights and privileges in handling a paper book.

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