DRM is an acronym that readers may not associate with good experiences – you’ll encounter it a lot in articles about the woman who had her digital library remotely wiped from her Kindle by Amazon or ones about the poetic deletion of George Orwell’s 1984 from hundreds of e-reader devices. DRM is a topic that gets people in flames – and as a future author, you may find yourself engulfed in the controversy.
DRM stands for Digital Rights Management. DRM is a general term to describe any technology that is meant to limit piracy and lessen copyright infractions. For music, that might mean CDs that can’t play on computers. For business, that might be software that prevents you from forwarding emails. For books, that might mean digital editions that can only be used by one device. DRM is one of those hot-button issues that has only become an issue in the past 10 or so years – and perhaps only the last two years in association with books.
Publishing doesn’t have a long history with piracy – there wasn’t a crackdown on photocopying books during the Kazaa and Napster years that wracked the music industry. Copyright issues on the user-end just didn’t exist until Kindles, tablet computers, and cellphones became portable libraries. But with the rise of the e-reader, suddenly it is feasible to share (or steal, depending on who you ask) books online in the same way as movies or music.
DRM in publishing can cover a variety of technologies:
- Restrictions on the amount of devices that can access an e-book
- The inability to transfer books from one e-reader platform to another (ie from Kindle to an iPad)
- Using non-standard file formats for e-books
- Requiring contracts upon purchase
- Terms and Agreements that can nullify your ‘ownership’ of the e-book if you break – or are suspected of breaking – that contract.
Readers are people that share – I bet if you look at your bookcase there’s at least one book that you ‘borrowed’ from a friend at least two years ago. These restrictions on sharing have many readers on the warpath, but some publishers consider these measures a necessity to keep the industry alive.
Some publishers, though, are abandoning DRM across the board. The big-six subsidary TOR has already gone DRM-free for all its books, and many smaller publishers are as well.
Libraries, once stymied by publishers who offered e-books that deleted after just a few reads, are begining to lend digital copies – and even e-readers prestocked with books. DRM is beginning to be less draconian – but these measures are still too much for some readers, and not enough for some publishers.