A great debate between ePub and DRM is going on between Paul Biba and David Rothman at Teleread. They both have posts supporting their arguments. NSR will interview Paul Biba next week, so stayed tuned for more on this exciting discussion. Continue reading
There is a really interesting article (with comments) on the TeleRead blog about the Espresso Book Machine. If you remember, UM purchased the Espresso back in October. This new article, written by Court Merrigan, focuses on the machine’s use in bookstores – store front or in one’s closet. It’s big in the UK, with plans to expand the 500,000 title Espresso offering even further if Blackwell can negotiate the rights to in-copyright books.
Merrigan ponders the future of bookstores, amazon, and the impact of POD to the eBook industry. Comments from publishers offer even more ideas and perspectives. One comment, from Michael Pastore, states “This machine could also be deployed in libraries, and help make some money for libraries, which are much in need right now. And independent bookstores might be looking at this machine reverently, as a mechanical messiah.”
From Teleread, author not listed:
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.
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.
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.
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):
- intro & first panel: Overview
- second panel: The Legal Landscape
- third panel: DRM in Action
- fourth panel: Informing Consumers
- fifth panel: The Future of DRM
- Oren’s final thoughts
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.
I think you all know that I love ebooks, particularly in my reference collection. My main gripe, the small independent publishers don’t have the resources to publish their titles electronically. Now, there is a solution. Yesterday, the Perseus Books Group launched Constellation – an eBook solution for independent publishers.
Constellation will convert print ready PDFs into .epub and other formats in order to distribute them to various eBook content providers. Ebrary and Overdrive are both on the list, in addition to Amazon and Sony.
Librarians, spread the word to your favorite independent publisher. Check out the press release from Perseus.
From Publishers Weekly:
Sony Adopts EPUB Standard for Reader
By Jim Milliot — Publishers Weekly, 7/24/2008 7:16:00 AM
The International Digital Publishing Forum’s epub e-book standard received a big vote of support this morning when Sony announced that effective immediately its Sony Reader will now support the standard. Beginning in August, all new devices shipped will use epub, and right now owners of existing devices can go to http://esupport.sony.com to update their device’s software for epub support.
Brennan Mullin, v-p of Sony Audio, said the company was adopting the epub standard to encourage more vendors, booksellers and publishers to get involved in the e-book market and to broaden the amount of content that can be viewed on the Reader. The move to use epub is a significant change in approach for Sony, which has used its own standards and restricted consumers to buying e-books for the Reader from its own store. The use of epub will allow consumers to buy titles from a variety of outlets and will grow the number of titles compatible with the Reader to well passed the 45,000 now available through its online store. Another avenue for new material will be Adobe: Sony also annouced today that the device will support Adobe e-books with DRM and will also have the capability to reflow standard PDF e-books and other documents.
Publishers, who generally favor the one-format approach made possible by epub, welcomed Sony’s decision. “Sony’s support of epub is an important step forward in the cooperation of publishers and portable digital book manufacturers to create better experiences for readers,” said Brent Lewis, v-p digital & internet for Harlequin. “We’re thrilled with the upgrade.” IDPF, of which Sony is a member, approved epub as an industrywide standard in an attempt to foster interoperability among e-book reading devices.
Mullin said sales of the Reader have been steady and that sales of titles have increased. Interest in e-books has grown and although reluctant to credit a competitor, Mullin acknowledged that the buzz around Amazon’s Kindle “has been good for everybody in the e-book market.” Amazon, however, has not adopted the epub standard.
In addition to adopting the epub standard, Sony has announced it has started offering the Reader in the U.K.