Once It Leaves Our Hands: The DRM Argument Continues

If you’re new to the “publishing world” and plan to self-publish an eBook, this is some of what you’re about to jump into. Last week, several self-published authors left comments of protest under the announcement Lulu Says Goodbye to DRM, while other authors stated they are on board with the decision. In between author comments, readers attempted to have their voices heard. Here is how the Lulu blog post begins:

Effective January 15, 2013, Lulu will no longer offer Adobe’s Digital Editions DRM as an option when publishing or revising eBook content in EPUB and PDF formats.

If you don’t already know, Lulu is a self-publishing service for authors, offering both print-on-demand books (printed and shipped upon individual order by customer) and eBooks (downloaded individually when ordered by customer). DRM stands for Digital Rights Management. It’s computer code meant to block copying (known as piracy) of eBooks.

So why not leave the code in? The Lulu statement goes on:

For readers who download eBooks directly from Lulu.com to the device of their choice, removing DRM on EPUBs and PDFs will remove their need to create an Adobe account, authorize the purchase in Digital Editions or install a third-party application.

In a comment, Derrick explains why this is important to some readers:

I recently tried to “borrow” a book from my local library which requires an Adobe Digital Editions account. The instructions on how to do this came with my Nook. There were simply too many steps to complete. I was frustrated with the process of actually getting the book onto my reader. It would have almost been faster to simply go to the library or the used bookstore to purchase a copy. As a consumer, I want to browse, purchase, download, and start reading – hence the reason for purchasing an eReader.

Maybe it is just me, but if you are offering a product that is meant to be read and enjoyed, why would you make the experience of obtaining your product anything less than easy to complete? After my library experience, I now avoid all eBooks that require use of Digital Editions. [emphasis mine]

Following several comments from authors protesting that lack of DRM will cost them money via sales “lost” to piracy, Ted Orland responds with this comment:

If the self published (and self important) authors who are commenting on this article honestly believe they LOSE sales due to piracy they are hopelessly ill-informed. If someone walks into Wal-Mart to steal a CD or something, they had no intention of paying for it. If someone goes to a torrent website to steal your book, they aren’t going to go to iBooks to buy it if it isn’t there. … [emphasis mine]

A comment by N.B. Nicholson-Owens expands the argument against DRM:

… DRM, depending on the implementation details, can also be used to find out when or where they’re reading the work (also known as spying on the reader). One should question whose interests are being “protected” (as some on this thread have said) with DRM; that’s the point of the word “rights” in DRM — see things from the view of those that impose the limits, not those whom the limits are imposed upon. [emphasis mine]

[Re “spying on the reader,” see Related Reading at the bottom of my post.]

Despite hearing these eBook reader experiences, many authors still want the DRM decision to be theirs alone, as discussed at the website Digital Book World:

According to a recent survey conducted by Digital Book World and Writer’s Digest (also owned by F+W Media) of nearly 5,000 authors, Lulu might have made a mistake. More than any other position, authors are generally in favor of DRM. [emphasis mine]

Per the above-quoted DBW article, most self-published authors think piracy robs them of eBook sales. At Self Publishing Review, under a post describing the Lulu DRM policy change and referring also to self-publishing service Smashwords (eBooks only), which does not offer DRM, an author named David comments:

Sorry that DRM might appear to be a “drag”, but at least it’s better than nothing and won’t deter a genuine reader. What do Smashwords offer the author? Some fine words about deterring piracy. Do they do anything actively to stop their books being pirated? If so, their website doesn’t seem to spell it out. Basically, their business model operates on the Serpent’s tail model. As they admit, few authors sell large quantities, but they offer a huge number of titles. So basically, to the likes of Smashwords, piracy is not a significant challenge to their business model. But to professional authors, producing a small number of books, piracy is a much more damaging prospect, threatening their livelihoods.

My Thoughts

As a copy editor, I hold the writer’s voice in high, almost holy esteem. From this perspective, it is a greater wrong to change a writer’s voice than to make a copy of their words.

That doesn’t mean it is “right” for someone to copy a writer’s words without paying them and/or getting their permission (except in cases of fair use but that’s something for another post). Of course it’s not right. I understand the frustration, the sheer outrage a writer feels when their work is copied against their wishes for someone else’s profit. Pirating is a problem far from being solved in our digital age and I support those who fight the good fight against copyright infringement.

Parallel to these positions, if I may remove my editor’s cap for a moment, my general philosophy is that once a “thing” is sent out into the world after being created, there is no way to completely control what happens to that creation. This is not to say I encourage anyone to eschew management over copyright or relinquish legal ownership of his or her creation without compensation, but, rather, to caution against clinging too hard to the attitude that a creation can and must be completely controlled once it leaves our hands.

“Two Hands Holding A Pair Of Books” by Albrecht Durer

Related Reading on Reading: The e-reader over your shoulder

Further Reading on Piracy: How The New “Six Strikes” Anti-Piracy Scheme Could Ruin Public WiFi



One thought on “Once It Leaves Our Hands: The DRM Argument Continues

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s