Ever since the advent of digital media being sold and distributed, one of the most controversial aspects of the business has been DRM, or Digital Rights Management. The companies electing to sell their content digitally have always been worried that their products will be shared or distributed illegally, reducing paying customers. In reality, DRM embedded into files can cause a lot of problems for customers who often did not realize the files that they are paying for had such restrictions.
Ebooks, apps, videos and music sold with Digital Rights Management can be limited in various ways. Traditionally this could restrict which devices you can transfer the files to, for example whether you are allowed to buy a new ebook reader and transfer files to it. Of course, problems are exacerbated if trying to upgrade to a device from a different manufacturer. Many people are confused when they try to take files from one device and back up or read them on a computer or laptop, and find that they are restricted from doing so. Another problem common to files with Digital Rights Management is that devices may need to be connected to the internet to be able to read the files; some forms of copyright protection insist on this every time and most will add this stipulation the first time you open the file.
Many companies initially selling content imposed these restrictions as they were afraid of their files being illegally distributed, but in reality they were restricting the rights of the people who were honestly buying the products. People downloading files illegally, or creating backup copies of their CDs and DVDs themselves would have no such restrictions, and many felt duped by paying for items that they could not use in ways that they expected.
Speaking at the recent FutureBook conference, organised by The Bookseller, Charlie Redmayne argued that ebooks free of restrictions can be beneficial for publishers as well as for customers. He told how the Harry Potter books were purposely sold without rights management, which allowed people purchasing the books to read them whenever and wherever they want and to share them with family and friends, as the people who had hard copies of the books. He gave evidence that since the books had been available digitally without restrictions, piracy of the books was a quarter lower than when the books were only available in print.
This was achieved by using a pioneering technology whereby no digital rights management was included, but an invisible watermark was added to the file as it was downloaded and the file contained an ID showing where the file originated from. This meant that people sharing the file with family or friends would be free to do so, but pirates who uploaded it to file sharing networks could easily be contacted and instructed to take the file down. Sellers are starting to realize that DRM free files are more profitable to sell than ones with protection, and also costs of aftercare or refunds are massively reduced, but they are still worried about their copyright being infringed by digital pirates. They wonder if they should follow the methods taken by the Harry Potter franchise – a proven cheap, effective way of controlling copyright without unfairly selling the customer a flawed product. In the meantime, if you have difficulty being online at all times when using your device, or if you would like to read your book on multiple devices over time, it would be wise to purchase only content without DRM.