DRM Creates Pirates

Reporters. Ya gotta love’em. Why just report something when you can report it sensationally? It’s the written equivalent of jazz hands. If you’ve been on any of the various writing forums lately, you’ve come across this article from The Register. To summarize, there is a new kind of spam – Kindle Spam. Basically, there are people out there that are stealing other people’s work and publishing it under their own name so that they can collect the royalties. If you think this isn’t a problem, check out what TC Southwell had to go through to reclaim her books on Amazon. While I empathize with her plight, it’s easy to see why Amazon made her jump through all the hoops she did to prove that she was the original author. If they didn’t, pirates would find successful indie books and try to “reclaim” them from Amazon. It’d be a nightmare.

Of course, it’s an issue of piracy. Saying it’s spam is really a misnomer. It’s out-and-out theft. But the conclusion that the author of the article comes to is faulty. He suggests that a monetary cost to uploading books would detract pirates. That, somehow, a monetary barrier to entry would make all the pirates magically go away.

Let’s just think about that for a moment.

These are people who are stealing books and republishing them under their own names. It is, in essence, identity theft. Do you really think that they won’t buy a credit card number from one of the various hacker sites? Sure they will. No, asking Amazon (and others) to charge for uploading will simply punish self-published authors by burdening them with undue costs.

This leads me back to the DRM debate. Since No Hero is free, this hasn’t been an issue for me. I don’t care if people email the book to friends. I’m just looking for readers. Readers that, hopefully, will pay for the followup novel. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t thought about DRM. Digital Rights Management is designed, in essence, to limit how you can use your content. In the case of books, it limits what devices you can view the book on and where you can transfer it. There will often be a limited number of times you can transfer a book between computers. There will usually be some sort of electronic key used to unlock it. The idea is to stop pirates from distributing the book.

But does it?

We know the answer to that. DRM doesn’t stop the dedicated pirate. It is little more than a speed bump in their mission to pirate your book. Most DRM is a Google search from being broken. What DRM mostly does is punish legal buyers of content. If you give me a legal way of purchasing and using something, I’ll go that route. Take DVDs for instance. You aren’t supposed to make digital copies of them. They put copy protection on them to stop exactly that. Why? So pirates can’t distribute them. Does it stop the pirates? No. What it does is stop me from putting the movie on my computer so that I have a backup copy for when the kids use the disc as a Frisbee or to keep me from transferring it to my iPad. See, to the studios, I’m a pirate. Never mind that I bought the movie and that I’m not giving it to anyone. I should re-buy that same movie if I want to watch it on a different device.

Well, screw that.

I already paid for the movie, and in the case of some of the classics, like Star Wars, I’ve purchased them multiple times. Why should I have to buy another copy for my iPad? That’s just stupid. So, like millions of people, I found out how to transfer it. Now I, a person that really never wanted this knowledge, know how to break copy encryption. I didn’t want to know, but I had to because of DRM. Now, every time I rent a movie, I think, “I could burn that to my computer if I want.” I don’t, but I could. DRM gave me, a person that never wanted it, the tools to be a pirate.

This is why I won’t be including DRM on any of my books (if I get a publisher some time down the road, this position may not be up to me). I know that pirates will pirates will pirate. DRM isn’t going to stop it. All DRM will do is punish legal users who can’t understand why they can’t use the book in a way that makes sense to them. I encourage all of my fellow writers to do the same.

4 thoughts on “DRM Creates Pirates”

  1. Good points Tom.

    I think that free and open media is the way to go. I have purchased more Books/Music/Sheet Music because I was able to obtain a free copy / sample first. It should be considered part of good marketing.

    I am old enough to remember the controversy of cassette tape recorders and all the hubbub about piracy. Arguments were made that today sound absurd today like “People would stop buying records because one could just record off the radio or copy LP’s. The only thing that happened is that we shared “Mix tapes” with our friends that promoted us to buy complete album’s. (Same thing happened with compact disks and probably with my dads Phillips Reel to Reel tape player)

    Technology has changed but peoples desire to share, sample and transfer media has not. Publishers should recognize this and embrace it. Embedding some type of ownership tag to hinder full scale piracy?

    Nice site BTW! Hope you and your family is well. Things are still good in Pickwick…. 🙂


  2. Good to hear from you man! Thanks for the comment. Yeah, there is so much stupid in DRM, it is mind boggling. The problem is that you’ll never convince the executives that DRM doesn’t work. There may be legal reasons as well. I can imagine that lawyers use the breaking of DRM as a prosecution point and without DRM it might be harder to prove though that seems flimsy to me.

    Hope all is well with you and the fam. Tanel and I came across this site once and thought it was you. I was like, “I should hit him up for a book cover!”

  3. Good post–I agree with all of this. As a lot of people say–Piracy isn’t your problem. Obscurity is.

    I hate DRM, and I go out of my way to avoid services that use it. iTunes DRM is a pain, so I download music from Amazon. Amazon DRM is a pain for some books, so I try to find the same book through Kobo or Smashwords. (And don’t get me started on Adobe Digital Editions, a worthless, buggy piece of software that won’t let me read books I legitimately own.)

    Incidentally, a recent study by some pretty reputable economists indicates that piracy hasn’t hurt music sales at all–music sales have declined just as much for non-computer-using demographics as for the “high piracy” groups. The RIAA should look for its problems elsewhere.

  4. I’m going to talk about this on the next AV Rant podcast as well. I was talking to a guy and he says that he will buy content (music) and also download the pirated copy to easily distribute to other computers/devices. How does that make sense?

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