Category Archives: DRM

Finally, a Textbook Program for Students with Disabilities

Being part of the Wright State University community has given me a whole new perspective on students with disabilities.  Approximately 10% of our population is part of this community.  It is very difficult for these students to get their textbooks and other course material in a format appropriate to their needs.  That has just been made easier with the announcement of the U.S. College and University Partnership with Bookshare.  Bookshare is the largest accessible online library for people with print disabilities.  Their press release contains all the details of this new program.  Text of this release is also below, click on more.   Continue reading

IDPF Conference on eBooks

On May 11 – 12th the IDPF will hold its Digital Book 2009 Conference in NYC.  The theme is “an eBook Stimulus plan for Publishing.”  More information is available on the conference website.  Looks like there will be some sessions on DRM, ePUB, XML, and a presentation from Google on the Book Search program. Anyone attending?  If so, consider posting your comments here on the blog.

FTC Digital Rights Management town hall meeting: summing up

From Teleread, author not listed:

FTC Digital Rights Management town hall meeting: summing up

Posted: 26 Mar 2009 09:39 AM PDT

I have had a day to think about what I saw at the FTC’s town hall meeting on Digital Rights Management yesterday, and what it might mean for the future of DRM. The conference fell into the classic “good news, bad news” scenario.

Unrealistic Expectations

The good news is that the FTC is now more aware than ever of the difficulties to consumers implicit in Digital Rights Management (especially since they received over 800 public comments, which they admitted during the meeting they had not managed to work all the way through yet). The bad news is that it is not the FTC’s brief to adjudicate matters relating to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and fair use, or even anti-trust concerns relating to non-interoperable DRM.

The FTC is chiefly concerned with unfair and deceptive business practices. (For example, in the other big FTC story of the day, the FTC announced yesterday it was suing Dish Network for making telemarketing calls to people listed on the national Do Not Call Registry.)

If companies make deceptive statements in advertising about the limitations of their DRM, the FTC will look into it. If companies release DRM that harms the consumer (as in the infamous Sony rootkit debacle), they will investigate and possibly sanction. But they can’t do anything to let you copy DVDs to your video iPod when the DMCA forbids it. Talk to Congress about that.

That being said, the meeting was of great interest just for the open discussion of DRM among big guns from both consumer-advocacy and commercial trade groups. Anyone who did not realize DRM was a contentious issue before would certainly have gotten an earful.

Potential Remedies

Though some speakers were not terribly exciting (one read a ten-minute prepared statement in a sleep-inducing monotone; another rambled on at length about a “thought experiment” involving taking a bus full of developing-country representatives to a shopping mall that made no sense either during or after the speech), most of them had good points to make, pro or con.

Several potential DRM remedies were discussed, including

  • a logo-based disclosure system like ESRB or MPAA ratings so consumers would be able to see at a glance what DRM was on a product
  • making DRM systems more interoperable, or adding “exception handling” so DRM would permit more fair uses
  • DRM-using companies depositing keys and source code in escrow so that if they went bankrupt consumers would be able to crack the DRM and have access to the media they paid for afterward.

These took on a character of “pie in the sky,” however, given that imposing such solutions is generally outside the FTC’s brief. For example, making DRM more interoperable would be difficult given that companies generally have a vested interest in making sure their DRM works for them alone. (Apple’s stranglehold on the digital music industry due to its Fairplay DRM was brought up more than once.)

The FTC Takes Questions

One of the more interesting panels to me was the very last, in which representatives of the FTC got in the hot seat to field questions and comments as to what they might actually do about DRM. The answer: as stated above, not a whole lot.

Nonetheless, the first question fielded was one that I emailed, and I was even mentioned by both real name and moniker. (I had asked that TeleRead be mentioned as the source, but they forgot.) I pointed out that Amazon owned the Mobipocket e-book format, currently used by many of its e-book competitors, and asked what the FTC would be willing to do if they decided to stop licensing that format.

The FTC panel replied that they could not address specific what-if scenarios, but they could talk about similar investigations they had done in the past. They talked about their investigation into Microsoft when Microsoft wanted to get out of the music business and shut down its DRM servers—meaning that consumers would no longer be able to play the music they had bought from Microsoft. They closed the investigation after Microsoft agreed to keep its servers turned on.

All in all, the FTC town hall meeting was an interesting event, and worthwhile in that it fostered public discussion and debate about DRM that might end up educating more people about its disadvantages. But those who expected any solid commitments will be left disappointed.

Other Coverage

Here is a roundup of other articles I have found covering the town hall meeting.

Oren’s Weblog has excellent panel-by-panel summaries of the event (though Oren did not chronicle the sixth panel, in which the FTC answered questions about what measures it might take):

Content Agenda looks at the meeting here; the Copyright and Technology blog has coverage here. Brad’s Reader looks at some implications for e-books here. Here is a PDF article laying out a system of logo-based disclosure of DRM on download products of the sort that was proposed at the meeting.

Ars Technica also has an article summing up the first few panels that came before the lunch break.

npr Story on DRM in eBooks

npr’s All Things Considered program had a really nice piece on ebooks and DRM – the good and the bad.  You can listen or read it here.

In the story, authors are presented as anti-DRM, no restrictions, they want people to read their material not be locked out by restrictions.  In contrast, the Amazon Kindle VP states that they have very little complaints about DRM restrictions and a publisher is portrayed as a DRM supporter.  The author, Laura Sydell, says “But DRM could become a problem if the Kindle goes bust — then all those people who bought Kindle eBooks with DRM will have no way to read them because no other device can open the files.”  I think that VP of Kindle will start getting the complaints then!  Guess this shouldn’t surprise me, the companies who will make the most profit from publishing a title want restrictions and the authors, who probably only get 10%, want it open!

Tim O’Reilly: Kindle needs open ePub-style standard to survive, from Teleread.org

Tim O’Reilly: Kindle needs open ePub-style standard to survive
www.teleread.org – Posted: 23 Feb 2009 08:40 AM CST
“Unless Amazon embraces open e-book standards like ‘epub,’ which allow readers to read books on a variety of devices, the Kindle will be gone within two or three years.” – Tim O’Reily in Why Kindle should be an open book, in Forbes.

The TeleRead take: It’s hard to tell how things will shake out, but Tim persuasively summons up a little history—Microsoft’s failed attempt with the Microsoft Network publishing platform. By contrast, O’Reilly got on the Web early with the Global Net Navigator and in time was well rewarded for the experience it gained with an open approach.

The point is, closed standards are a pain in the rear for e-book-lovers and other users who inevitably will want hardware or content that isn’t compatible with MegaCorp’s system. This disillusionment is a little akin to decaying Web links. At first, people buy into Mega’s plans and think that its  proprietary product line will endure forever. Only later do the hassles emerge.

E-book lessons from Oprah’s past
Remember how Oprah touted Gemstar e-book readers some years ago? But then consumers rebelled against a limited choice of books. Even now, following her backing of the Kindle, Oprah fans are finding that many O-blessed books are missing. Last I knew, she wasn’t doing a K version of her O magazine. Her fans may also have been put off by the complexities of the technology, to which proprietary formats can add.

While Jeff Bezos can talk of offering every book in E, he’s jeopardizing his own version by aiming for exclusives. What happens when other giants step in and start bidding wars—not just for temporary exclusivity but in time for the permanent variety?

The score that really counts in book-selling

More importantly, Jeff should also remember that the most meaningful score in the book-selling isn’t market share but healthy growth of earnings. Closed standards like the Kindle’s will slow down the rate of e-book adoption, as people find that his supposedly universal solution isn’t one at all.

What’s more, with Kindle-type DRM, all kinds of nasty issues emerge, such as the inability of readers to own their books for real. Jeff was smart enough to set up a music store without DRM. He should consider the the same for e-books, using social DRM, if need be, in place of “real” DRM. Publishers could still have the option of using DRM, but I suspect that market pressures would encourage back off from this consumer nightmare. DRM is especially nasty in that it turns nonproprietary e-formats into proprietary ones.
Technorati Tags: Tom O’Reilly,O’Reilly Media

E-Books Are Not Books

I read an interesting paper by Mark T J Carden of Ingram Digital. He presented this paper at the Conference on Information and Knowledge Management (see citation below).  Mark discusses how eBooks are following the same evolutionary path of physical books and won’t be fully adopted until the “traditional book is deconstructed and reconstructed to create new paradigms for storing and delivering content in electronic forms.”  He offers suggestions for re-inventing the eBook.

1.  classify the content into groupings like data, explanation, instruction, or narrative and identify user behaviors like look up, skim, view, enjoy – map these together

2.  examine models of acquisition and possession, skim or view vs. consume or immerse.  These require different business models and licensing

3.  examine page layouts and formats.  What might be suitable for a print page may be unsuitable for the electronic one. reformat as necessary

4.  establish effective reading devices and the unfortunate format wars that come with them.  DRM or no DRM. my format or your format, or do what the music industry is doing – open access to content, if you can find a business model to support it

Conference on Information and Knowledge Management archive
Proceeding of the 2008 ACM workshop on Research advances in large digital book repositories table of contents

Napa Valley, California, USA

SESSION: Enriched digitized books table of contents

Pages 9-12

Year of Publication: 2008

ISBN:978-1-60558-249-8

eBooks I: Business Models and Strategies, OReilly TOC

The OReilly Tools of Change conference is underway in NYC, with many presentations and discussions about ebooks.  One that caught my eye was a panel discussion of eBook business models and strategies.  The presenters were:  Michael Smith (International Digital Publishing Forum), Kenneth Brooks (Cengage Learning), Leslie Hulse (HarperCollins Publishers), Cynthia Cleto (Springer Science+Business Media.  Cynthia Cleto was featured in the NSR audio interview in October, 2008.

The presentation demonstrates various drivers of ebook publishing, challenges, and patterns in user behavior that are driving the market to offer various business models.  It breaks down ebooks into the trade, higher ed, reference, and STM categories providing comparison charts on challenges, strategies, formats, etc.  I was happy to see catch phrases like – epub, DRM not necessary, and sales by the chapter, but unfortunately, they were not listed in each of the four categories.

eBooks II:  Formats, Standards, and Implementation, part two of the series on eBooks, discussed epub, but on the developer side of things.

Once and Future e-book

The Once and Future e-book: On Reading in the Digital Age
A veteran of a former turning of the e-book wheel looks at the past, present, and future of reading books on things that are not books. -by John Siracusa, Apple Technology Specialist at Ars Technica.

John writes about the history of ebook devices, corporate mis-steps, outmoded business models, DRM, and the market vibe.   Technologically minded librarians will empathize with his frustrations.  Those who aren’t can get a quick background of the way tech, business, and customer interests interact and conflict.  Publishers will recognize the plea for new business models.  The post suggests that an immediate change in attutude and practice is needed or publisher’s will lose the moment’s opportunities.

Overdrive Promises more Content, Less DRM

From the TeleRead blog:
OverDrive: ‘Much more content without DRM’ promised for libraries in ‘09
By David Rothman

image Again and again I’ve asked the IDPF to please consider a logo for DRMless ePub books. OverDrive founder Steve Potash is also president of the IDPF, and recently he told Library Journal:

“OverDrive is the leader in bringing downloadable MP3 audiobooks to libraries. [It] is leading the library market in bringing all formats of digital media to readers—including much more content without DRM during 2009.”

I hope that includes copyrighted e-books, too, not just MP3. Like Steve, I’m keen on writers and publishers getting paid, and there are ways for this to happen without DRM. For now, I’ll regard the above statement as indicating at least some flexibility.

Meanwhile check out other comments in the LJ piece, headlined Apple’s DRM News said to have little effect on libraries for now.

(Thanks to Ed Klopek.)