DRM, ebooks and the iPad

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A little while ago I got involved in a discussion on Digital Rights Management (DRM) and the iPad on Twitter. @MacMK had recently bought a digital book at Bol.com, and complained that she was given no warning that this would not work on her shiny new iPad.

Young girl balancing a book and an apple on head

Most eBooks are sold in PDF or ePub format and are commonly protected with Adobe’s Digital Experience Protection Technology (ADEPT) DRM scheme. Although there are quite a few ebook readers that support this format, Apple products are one of the few that don’t. This is because Apple sells ebooks through its own iBook Store, protecting the files with their own proprietary FairPlay DRM scheme. As a result, the standard iBooks app on Apple’s iOS (iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch) only read unprotected and FairPlay-protected ebooks. This is also the case of the very popular Stanza app.

All very annoying, especially considering that Bol.com had a no returns policy on ebooks. This effectively meant @MacMK couldn’t even get her money back for a product she couldn’t even use. Because of all the ruckus on Twitter, Bol.com eventually gave @MacMK a coupon. Just don’t expect that a regular customer without a decent following in social media will enjoy such service.

I then Googled the problem and discovered that a few people had already blogged about that the problem and had found a way to strip the ebooks of Adobe’s ADEPT DRM protection. This was just perfect for making it possible to read after all and to make an archival copy that would still work after the inevitable demise of Adobe’s DRM service.

My problem with DRM

 

I have always been a staunch opponent to DRM and its ilk. Copyright holders place such draconian and restrictive limits on what a licensee can do with the file that it feels like a punishment for buying legally.

One of the biggest problems with all the popular DRM implementations are dependent on internet servers that have to vet the users rights each time the file is accessed.

So what happens when the company or the service isn’t commercially viable anymore? Simple, all your legally bought content becomes unusable. This in my mind is wholly unacceptable.

There is a long list of such services that have shut down, including Adobe’s very own Adobe Ads platform. This platform made PDF content freely available if people only watched the embedded ads. When the service was no longer viable, Adobe pulled the plug on their ads servers. With these servers no longer vetting rights to the content, the PDFs became unreadable. So much for the freedom of information.

DRM and the law

 

For many years now, media companies have been able to trample over people’s rights to use their content.  Most notably, the American Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) forbids anyone from circumventing digital protection of any sort. Because of America’s imperialistic nature, this meant that much of the rest of the world had to suffer these laws as well.

Thankfully, most European countries have sensible laws in place to protect their citizens’ rights. In my native country of the Netherlands, the law allows me to explore means to disable copy protections for a few purposes:

  1. to ensure interoperability
  2. to make backup copies possible
  3. for study

Because of these protections in the law, I decided to try out how the DRM removal worked and offer @MacMK a way to enjoy her ebook on her iPad.

 

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