In a recent column in Publishers Weekly, Joe Wikert made the case for a unified e-book market and suggests that publishers consider getting rid of DRM, those digital pesky restrictions that, among other things, prevent you from easily taking your Kindle book collection over to a Nook.
He also references Steve Jobs’ famous letter to the music industry in which he plead that they get rid of DRM, which Jobs said doesn’t work and will not halt music piracy.
As a writer, reader, and former agent, I have to say: I really don’t have a problem with DRM. But it could be better.
Here’s the thing that the anti-DRM crowd rarely adequately acknowledges: It’s way too easy to e-mail your 1,000 closest friends a copy of a non-DRM e-book. Yeah, DRM can be cracked. Yeah, if someone really wants to pirate something they’re going to pirate it. Yeah, there’s nothing that’s ever going to stop piracy entirely.
But adding some basic restrictions on use of a file encourages average consumers to do the right thing. As long as those speed bumps are reasonable.
And to that end, here’s how I think a reasonable DRM policy should work:
Readers Should Have the Right to Transfer Their Libraries
This is the biggest injustice of DRM. If I buy an e-book on a Kindle I should be able to transfer it to a Nook. There should be an e-book reader Bill of Rights that compels e-booksellers to provide the means for a reader to read the e-books wherever they wish. If I want to move to another device or app or e-book program I should be able to do so.
This is obviously way more complicated than it sounds. Who is going to develop and maintain the conversions? Could e-booksellers agree on a universal format when Amazon in particular doesn’t have much of an incentive to open up their e-book ecosystem?
But someone needs to take leadership on this. It’s only fair that when you buy an e-book you have the right to read it wherever you want.
Readers Should Be Able to Access an E-book On Up to Six Devices
One of the greatest things about e-books is the ability to sync between devices. And allowing multiple devices simultaneously allow families to pool e-book collections as well. Six seems reasonable to me – an entire town shouldn’t be able to access a shared e-book account, but a family should be able to share an e-book.
Readers Should Be Able to Permanently Give Away an E-book
Done with an e-book and want to give it a friend? You should be able to e-mail it to a friend. Once they download it to their device it’s disabled on your device. Just like if you were giving away a physical book.
Other than that? The file is locked down. I can’t e-mail it to my friends. I can’t copy it endlessly. I’d have everything I need for legitimate home use and all the benefits of being able to choose my app ecosystem, and it would be a pain to do the wrong thing.
What do you think is fair when it comes to e-books?