How Do I Love Thee, Business Model: Let Me Count The Ways

Digital Rights Management [DRM] is an industry term for a technology that gives ‘rights’, or ‘how this media may be used’, with regards digital files such as music, movies, or Ebooks on digital platforms like your iPad, Ebook reader, & so on. Essentially, the basic model is that one pays a license to consume such media, over a period of time set within the license terms. For example, one may buy some music for an mp3 player on iTunes, or perhaps directly from a musician [Disclosure: client]: Live & Ticking – Ray Allen.


This posting wont centre on music or video files locked with DRM; instead, it focuses on a particular medium: The Ebook.

The book: Traditionally printed on material from dead trees. Wrapped & bound, published, then distributed to shops, & libraries. The book is relatively easy to get a hold of, unless it’s a more esoteric title, then one would simply request a copy at the local library, or book shop. Once purchased, one is free to consume the content anytime. Enjoy the book. Tell friends about it, even give the book to a friend for a short period – A loan, so they too can enjoy it’s content.

If one looks at how the medium is purchased & consumed today, using a digital version (Ebook), it’s a format that promises so much. Books in digital format can be reproduced infinitely. One copy can be transformed, copied, reproduced at almost zero cost to publishers & authors. The lowering of these costs associated with traditional print/paper medium are what make Ebook publishing such a lucrative revenue generating mechanism. Ebooks also make it possible for anyone to become their own publishing powerhouse. To create & distribute their works via the Internet. Reaching out to an army of readers, eager for the next installment of their [Authors] book.

Sadly, in this case of Ebooks, publishers & authors alike are able to put digital locks, DRM, onto published titles which severely restrict the time honored traditional of lending a book to a friend. DRM, we are told, is used as a tool against piracy. To prevent copying of the Ebook. It’s within the rights of a copyright holder, and most certainly within the rights of an individual author, to restrict wholesale copying of their published work. The use of DRM, however, to prevent any instance of that Ebook to be lent or loaned to a friend, is gone.

“Culture, or civilization, taken in its broad, ethnographic sense, is that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society.”
[Source: Edward Burnett Tylor - Ideology and Primitive Culture]

The Printing Press was a technology that ‘broke’ the DRM of it’s time – The medium enabled circulation of information and ideas, outwith the established publishers. The historical equivalent of the printing press in our time, Napster, could have enabled the then suspicious music industry, to make a leap directly into digital media sales via per purchase, or subscription type services. Instead, they [RIAA] chose to obliterate the service. Napster was hung drawn & quartered in the courts of law.

The actions against Napster did not stop the, “circulation of information and ideas” within our culture. Even today, the reverberations of that decision is having an effect on our culture; with incumbent, established publishers, seeking government legislation in a vain attempt to prevent citizens from accessing, ‘unathorised‘ works.
[Source: UK Government Fights Copyright Infringement via - European Digital Rights]
[Source: Italy 1 Strike Proposal via - Torrent Freak]

There is certainly no proposition that everything should be free. Of course not, however, if DRM technology is used as a weapon against those who would consume Ebooks – in that the technology prevents not only reproduction of that Ebook, but also prevents you lending the Ebook to a friend – How can that loss of culture be quantified. How may the citizenry of a culture access second hand versions of a book in electronic format. How may one share culture if it’s locked up with secret keys, only a chosen few have access to. Indeed, contributor Amphigorym makes this candid observation:

“…But do I detect a certain fear on the part of our good man that the printing press might render what he does obsolete? Because it did, you know. It took the scriptures out of the hands of the monks and the clergy and the church, and made them readily available…” – Amphigorym
[Source: Monks Versus Press via - Wondermark]

There are countless texts, written many thousands of years ago, which are sadly lost due to censorship & book burning. With the advent of computers & the Internet, our culture can be celebrated, disseminated, copied, transcribed, published & finally consumed, virtually by anyone: Anywhere.

It would be remiss to suggest an author should not be paid for their endeavor. A hard days work should be rewarded with a days pay. All one could hope for, however, is that DRM technology is not used as a modern day Monk – being paid to transcribe a work for a wealthy benefactor. Lending an Ebook to a friend, should be as easy as giving them the title from your shelf. That friend may go on to purchase the entire library of an individual author. Benefiting both producer [Financially], & the consumer [Culturally].

Sharing is caring. DRM should not be used to burn our books, or lock up our culture.

In the new edition of The Giving Tree, the tree uses social tools to share with its friend all the best places to buy things.

Via: Randall Munroe - Image (c) http://xkcd.com/

[Post title attribution: Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861) - Sonnets from the Portuguese: XLIII]