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Here’s a talk I gave earlier this year at the O’Reilly Tools of Change for Publishing conference in NYC, about the way that DRM gives distributors control over publishers and writers. This talk went down very well, and is the source of “Doctorow’s Law,” which a lot of people have asked me about: “Any time someone puts a lock on something you own, against your wishes, and doesn’t give you the key, it’s not being done to your benefit.”

There’s some errata here, though: the Overdrive debacle was due to a licensing dispute, not a bankruptcy; and there’s now a “DRM-free” option for the Kindle, but I can’t find out if the file comes with legal encumbrances that would prevent people who buy one of these from moving it to a competing device (no one at Amazon will answer my queries about this). And I’ve also been told by Amazon that supposedly Audible will do DRM-free audiobooks, but they haven’t answered repeated queries about the details of this.

TOC 09 “Digital Distribution and the Whip Hand: Don’t Get iTunesed with your eBooks”

5 Responses to “My ebooks and DRM talk from O’Reilly’s Tools of Change for Publishing”

  1. Nate

    Nice talk. I like the Law. Very succinct.

    I just read Little Brother. It’s excellent. Good luck with the awards.

  2. Jean-Henry Morin

    Hi Cory, long time since we chatted at Lift’06 in Geneva and exchanged a few email afterward…
    Once again I really enjoyed your talk but it’s still striking to me how much I agree with you on almost every point you make except for one : your radical position on DRM.
    Basically your arguments prove to be 100% right given the current design of DRM systems and their careless consideration for end-users, user experience and fair use.
    To that respect the FSF campaign DefectiveByDesign.org also clearly pictures the state of affairs one couldn’t agree more with.
    Now, if something is defective (by design), isn’t this a call for action to redesign it ? To rethink it ? As a researcher in DRM this is what has led me to work on this interesting yet hard problem considering Ed Felten’s Copyright Balance Principle for DRM public policies (CACM V. 48, No. 7, July 2005, p. 112) whereby “a user wishing to make lawful use of copyrighted material should not be prevented from doing so by any DRM system”.

    So, here’s my “What If” comment : What if we reversed one of the fundamental (flawed) assumptions underlying DRM. Namely the “Distrust Assumption”, allowing users to make almost unilateral yet accountable claims of legitimate usage situations (e.g., Exceptions)
    As everyone now clearly understands, total security is neither achievable nor desirable. Consequently, given the right user experience and business models a redesigned DRM system could prove to become an enabler for innovative digital content commerce where most users would smoothly comply with minor requirements provided they are clearly known and announced. I also liked your point about EULA reduced to a bare minimum especially considering as you suggested 12 year old kids. This makes sense. Most users aren’t criminals and the presumption of innocence should prevail as a general principle offloading the burden of proof to the party having a legitimate claim to make.

    The US FTC recently held a Town Hall meeting on DRM at UW School of Law : http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/workshops/drm/ As a panelist on the future of DRM panel I basically argued along those lines, calling for creatively rethinking and redesigning DRM altogether (webcast and transcript available on the website).
    At the end of the day, the question isn’t really whether DRM will survive or not, but rather how to get it right with respect to user experience and a positive sum game for all in terms of added value. Even if the music battle appears to be “lost” for now, we’re still facing major issues with so called premium content (videos and TV shows), ebook content of course, games, software, etc. DRM is here to stay it’s just a matter of figuring out how, in the best interest of all actors in this ecosystem.
    As another example in the gaming industry, one of the panelists ( Jan Samzelius, CEO of ByteShield, Inc.) also argued along similar lines, stressing that the question is not “to DRM or not to DRM” but “How to DRM” ( http://www.byteshield.net/ByteShield_DRM_article_20090218.pdf )

    Hope this might help get out of the radical debate of “total VS no DRM” and further contribute to promote the idea of creative rethinking / co-creation / co-redesign of DRM as an opportunity rather than a threat to our liberties. Your comments are always welcome and all the best for the Prometheus Awards.

  3. Joel

    I’ve downloaded as well as purchased your books in the past. Now with the question of DRM free ebooks on the minds of distributors like amazon, I want the opportunity to pay for a DRM free ebook. I was on amazon, looking at some of your books, and they have a link to “tell the publisher” that “I’d like to read this book on Kindle.” Can clicking this link send the message to amazon that consumers want these books DRM free for the kindle?

  4. Mike Whelan

    I am getting ready to publish a book and while researching protecting a flash ebook I ran across your “O’Reilly Tools of Change for Publishing conference in NYC”. I am in agreement with what you have said but I am still looking for a venue for my book. A delivery system where I make $10 per issue and keep the costs to to below $20 per copy.

    My target audience is high school students and my ebook is how to attend private college for 75% off. So do you have any suggestions besides avoiding DRM. I am beginning to give thought to having all of the info up on a web site that allows two different ISP’s addresses using the same user and password.

    I am looking forward to hearing your suggestions. I have articles ready to place up on the internet to drive to my web site and also have ads to place in such places as Facebook. But how to deliver is the big question. If I can get just two percent of the SAT takers of the to buy my book each year my world would change.

    Thank you for your time

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