Wizardry takes us to the future of Digital Rights Management – Harry Potter ebooks released without DRM.

Finally, all seven Harry Potter books are now available as ebooks!  But news to us muggles is that no DRM may be the future of DRM.

With J.K.Rowling’s release of all the Harry Potter books exclusively through Pottermore this week, without DRM, publishing companies and booksellers have realised that a new way of protecting ebooks may be here, thanks to wizardry.

Digital Rights Management (DRM) refers to preventative features used to protect copyrighted material, such as ebooks.  The most widespread DRM currently being used is Adobe DRM, which is embedded in epub files, the ebook industry standard. Adobe DRM requires users to register for an Adobe ID and have Adobe Digital Editions.  The content is then locked to the Adobe ID and cannot be transferred to any other user.  The user can then load the content on up to 5 DRM enabled devices linked to the same Adobe ID.

Adobe Digital Editions; still the industry-wide DRM system used for ebooks.

This method of DRM has been quite successful, with almost all ebook distributors utilising this protection mechanism. Effectively, you can’t share your ebooks, and hence this reduces the potential for piracy.  The release of the Harry Potter ebooksnot only DRM free, but also exclusively from one distributor, has sparked discussion.

The implications of no DRM are that you can share the content with anyone, anywhere, just by sending over the file. You can also load the content on as many devices as you want, and you don’t have to register for an Adobe ID since the content locked to your account.

As Momentum Books pointed out, however, the prevention mechanism being used by Pottermore is pretty new to the ebook industry.  It has been used before, however. Personally, when purchasing exam papers online, I have had my personal details watermarked on every page of the exam, in order to prevent sharing with people I don’t trust. After all, you don’t want to release your phone number and ID on the great wide web.

Whilst Pottermore isn’t plastering your address and phone number on every page, what they have done is watermarked the ebook with a unique identifier/code. If you upload a copy of the ebook to any file sharing site, you could potentially be tracked down. As Momentum Books also pointed out, this code could potentially be used to sue the owner of the ebook, or banning the person from future purchases.

Momentum Books call this ‘social DRM’.  But we think it’s better to call it ‘Inconspicuous DRM’; unsuspecting readers might share their book with friends, who may in turn share with their friends, and so forth until it eventually falls into the wrong hands. And Bingo!  Suddenly Pottermore send their legal team after you for, presumably, breaching their T&Cs or copyright.  It should be noted that altering text/removing text from an epub can be quite difficult, particularly if the watermark is placed in several places throughout the ebook, although we don’t know if this is the case at the moment.

We can think of ‘social DRM’ or ‘inconspicuous DRM’ in a broader publishing context. Imagine if one of the larger ebook retail sites such as Kobo adopted this. If you were caught, they could ban you from their site, effectively limiting your choice of ebooks.  This is a change from the current DRM system, where it is difficult to track down who stripped the DRM and uploaded it to a file server.

But what’s got people talking is how Rowling and her team managed to get Amazon to list their books?  It appears that Amazon isn’t directly selling the books to customers, rather, re-directing them to the Pottermore site to complete their ebook purchase.  So it is unlikely that Amazon is even receiving any commission for the purchases made.

The Amazon Kindle site redirects people who want to purchase the Harry potter ebooks to Pottermore.

One of the reasons could be that it threatens Amazon’s hold on kindle owners.  Given the widespread popularity of the Harry Potter books, this could lead to widespread abandonment of Amazon’s kindle platform, as users realise that they can obtain ebooks from other sites, away from the Amazon ecosystem.

Time will tell, but a dip into the Potter’s world has perhaps told us that inconspicuous DRM is the DRM in the not too distant future.  Unlike Adobe DRM, this type of inconspicuous DRM lets us share our content with those we trust, but not with complete strangers, one step closer to making ebooks just like real books.

Pictures used for evaluative purposes only, and copyright retained by their respective owners.

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Filed under Book News, E-Readers, National Year of Reading 2012

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