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Microsoft's eBook Apocalypse Shows the Dark Side of DRM (wired.com)
232 points by fogetti on June 30, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 139 comments

Previous discussion: (434 comments)


It doesn't make sense to me that eBook retailers can claim they're selling licences to view books, instead of the books themselves. If I were to look for 1984 for a kindle, I'd:

1. Search Amazon for "1984 George Orwell" 2. Select the first option (paperback) 3. See the "Format" selector 4. Select the kindle edition 5. Click "Buy with one-click"

Notably, between 4 and 5, reading the entire page gives no indication that the kindle format is fundamentally different from the paperback in regards to who actually owns the copy after purchase.

There may be a notice buried in a EULA that you agree to when setting the device up, but it may be hard to argue that it means they can tell you at the time of purchase they're selling you a book while actually selling you a licence.

Did you pick 1984 because ironically it was once wiped from all kindles?


Yes, actually. Because that event was referenced in the original article, which made it the last book I had thought about.

I'd like to be devil's advocate here - in case of Orwell books, given that publisher had no rights for them, the situation is similar to the selling of stolen goods.

Sure, but if the local grocer realizes he sold me stolen eggs, he doesn’t get to send his henchmen to my house in the middle of the night to steal them back.

The amazon/Orwell fiasco was the moment I decided to never buy a kindle and steer clear of anything with drm.

I actually agree that it's a situation that's unrelated to whether the retailer is selling licenses or copies of the book, which is what my original comment is about. I do think that Amazon could have handled the situation better though. It probably would have been to everyone's benefit for them to work out the issue with the rights holders instead of passing their mistake forward to their customers. They may have tried to do that behind closed doors and failed, of course.

1. How much cost is really involved in keeping up the DRM server in maintenance mode on Azure?

2. Maybe this will give the EFF enough case study to argue (successfully, finally) that the DMCA allows corporations to create rules that violate other existing laws such as the right of first sale.

For 2, it's unlikely. When pushed on DRM shutdowns and loss of use, surviving businesses usually refund purchases. It's going to be really tough to show harm, when the purchase has been refunded (or offered to be refuneded).

"Microsoft will refund customers in full for what they paid, plus an extra $25 if they made annotations or mark-ups."

that... I mean, if they automatically refund everyone? that sounds... really pretty good? I mean, I've got a few grand into my kindle books. I bet I have more than a grand in obsolete technical books alone. If the kindle was no longer the dominant platform (or rather, if there was another platform with more books) if you wanted to pay me several thousand dollars to re-buy my library on a different platform? Sure, I'd take that deal.

(I mean, if it's not an automatic refund, if it's instead the more usual "we'll refund if you remember to call us between this time and that time, and if you are willing to argue for hours, that is a very different sort of thing, of course. I just think you can make the argument that we should be very forgiving of businesses if they want to unwind in a way that causes them to refund every penny of revenue they ever acquired.)

if you wanted to pay me several thousand dollars to re-buy my library on a different platform? Sure, I'd take that deal

And what do you do when the media you want isn't available on another platform?

In the recent article about the burning of the Universal music archive we learned that less than 11% of recorded music is available online. Anyone who subscribes to a streaming service knows content comes and goes.

The only way to keep the things you buy is to actually own them. Not continually rent them from one online service after another.

>The only way to keep the things you buy is to actually own them. Not continually rent them from one online service after another.

Eh, as someone who has owned (and lost or destroyed) a bunch of physical things, my experience is that I have to continually rebuy physical things I use; I mean, records, CDs, books... these all get lost and destroyed in various ways if you carry them around with you and otherwise use them. I don't think that the way I own and store things is more reliable than a major content licensing platform. If I use a thing consistently and long term, then licensing it is certainly more reliable than buying a physical copy, and may very well be cheaper for me than buying physical copies new.

I'd argue that what protects availability of things that go out of print is more that other people own the thing and can sell me a copy when mine is lost or destroyed. You could argue this is a bit of a tragedy of the commons, or it could be, if E-books started pushing physical books out of print (as opposed to books that are e-only mostly being books that wouldn't have been printed at all before the advent of e-book technology)

Of course, for things that are rare (and things that are popular are a lot less likely to go out of print) this gets expensive pretty fast, but first sale doctrine does assure me that I can usually get a copy, if I'm willing to pay enough, while the possibility does exist, with electronic copies, that I won't be able to get a copy at all... that's true.

This is why copyright should only be granted on things that don't have DRM, or where a system is in place to release the un-limited copies when support of licensed copies ends.

We should allow licensing, but only if the companies allow the benefit of that - perpetual replication allowing goods to never fail - to accrue with the licensees.

Yeah, the point is to encourage creation; I agree that there should be some requirement that you must distribute a work to keep that copyright.

Encouraging creation is part of the deal, preserving culture, and enabling wider education were also parts of the deal -- Queen Anne (or her advisers) seem to have really valued the availability of literature for the people (or at least the priveleged people with access to the BL and Uni libraries).

eh, but copyright as it stands now, decreases the availability of literature (I mean, aside from how it encourages creating it, which is super important, of course.) so those things couldn't have been reasons for creating copyright law as it stands in the US.

(an interesting side effect, as a person willing to spend money on books? It's a lot easier to get a good e-book of something still under copyright than of something out of copyright. Like, I'm super happy to pay $20 or whatever for something better-than-gutenberg and that's really a lot of effort. I don't really know how they do it, 'cause half the for pay out of copyright books for kindle on amazon are worse than just downloading the .mobi from gutenberg. For anything public domain, you have to wade through a sea of badly formatted garbage, even if you are largely price insensitive; price isn't a reasonable signal either way. On the other hand, if it is in public domain, you almost certainly will be able to find an e-book of it, and the quality you get just hitting gutenberg really isn't that bad, while if it is in copyright, if it is an obscure book, your only real option is paper.)

I wonder how much of my problem with finding well formated kindle books is my own lack of familiarity with the search tools and publishing houses? or with amazon's lack of features (like, some sort of rating for the publisher would be useful here. Right now, amazon makes it really hard with their combining of reviews for different formats/editions/publishers. Like sometimes the kindle version and paper version (for out of copyright books) will be different publishers, and amazon just glomps the reviews together, making it really quite difficult.

>those things couldn't have been reasons for creating copyright law as it stands in the US //

I don't think your analysis stands, there was a deposit system in USA too so that all copyright books were deposited at the Library of Congress. In order to get your copyright you had to place on deposit two copies that people could, with access to the library, view and which would be preserved even if your work only had a short run and other copies were lost.


Everything else I thinkg I can agree with. Particularly the problems with Amazon's review and ratings system -- I guess it must work to bring more money to Amazon, but it's really annoying.

Ah, perhaps I misunderstood. I thought you meant availability to the general public; I mean, two archival copies of a work doesn't do a lot to ensure I can read it; as I understand, if you can't find the rightsholder, that still doesn't let you print copies until copyright is up.

>Everything else I thinkg I can agree with. Particularly the problems with Amazon's review and ratings system -- I guess it must work to bring more money to Amazon, but it's really annoying.

I personally think it's amazon's biggest problem; some of their products are distinctly premium; The kindle experience is way more expensive than just buying used books... and for in copyright books, it's a premium I'm happy to pay. I spend a lot more on books now that I have a kindle (I read a little more... but I also pay more per book)

The same goes for goods. Like, I'm happy to pay extra for something that arrives fast and that is what it says on the tin. I mostly (but not always) get that from major brand goods that sell a lot, but for unbranded stuff? I might as well go to aliexpress or something; the reviews don't match the product quite often.

I personally think that this is amazon's biggest problem; at least it's amazon's biggest problem when it comes to getting more of the money I spend. I don't know how representative I am.

From past shutdowns, I've never seen anything that past purchases are refunded, such as when Microsoft killed off Plays4Sure (ironically).

presumably they do this to avoid getting sued and having a precedent set though?

The right sale doctrine doesn’t apply to products like these; these are licenses to use. If they were first sale doctrine products, you could sell your goods on secondary markets, which you cannot.

But did they use the word 'buy' in their online store? Did they list the item as 'book title' instead of 'book title license'?

I'm sure there's a "licensed, not sold" line buried somewhere in the EULA, but why would that take precedence over the prominently-displayed "buy"? Is the "buy" a lie? If so, how is a consumer supposed to know which statements are lies and which are not? For all they know, the EULA could be the lying one.

This is all from a US point of view - Europe has disallowed using such shenanigans to rob consumers of their rights: https://www.theverge.com/2012/7/3/3134867/eu-court-of-justic...

I keep hearing complaints in the US that EU regulations strangle companies, but as a consumer I’m wildly envious. When I vaped, I tried to get a new disposable part in the EU. I had to upgrade my whole mod because the parts on the market in the US were illegal in the EU because they leaked. The US is sold products that force you to buy more “juice” and make messes. And in the EU, the juice flavors must each pass tests to show they’re not harmful. In the US that’s considered an undue burden.

> I keep hearing complaints in the US that EU regulations strangle companies, but as a consumer I’m wildly envious.

It's all a matter of what the regulations actually are. Most of them get sold as "consumer protection" but in practice are written by the industries the consumers are supposedly being protected from, in order to create barriers to entry and destroy competition.

> The US is sold products that force you to buy more “juice” and make messes.

Is there something forcing you to buy those ones? Can't you just order the EU one and have it shipped to you in the US? (And if the thing preventing that is regulations, well, "we need more regulations" is probably the wrong fix.)

> in practice are written by the industries the consumers are supposedly being protected from, in order to create barriers to entry and destroy competition.

Requiring 3rd party certification that your food/vape juice/whatever won't harm me should definitely be a barrier to entry. If that means there's less competition and higher prices, so be it. Consumer safety should come before the need for more competition and lower prices.

> Requiring 3rd party certification that your food/vape juice/whatever won't harm me should definitely be a barrier to entry.

So then don't buy anything without third party certification. But why shouldn't you be able to choose the EU's certification rather than the US, or a private one, if you want to?

> So then don't buy anything without third party certification.

You can't tell how compliant with food safety standards a manufacturer is when you're standing in front of a supermarket shelf. It's better to just know that every juice on the shelf met some minimum food safety standard.

> You can't tell how compliant with food safety standards a manufacturer is when you're standing in front of a supermarket shelf.

How can you tell any better how compliant they are with local law? The penalty can be the same for misusing the seal of the standards organization, it just gives you the choice of whose standards you're willing to accept.

> It's better to just know that every juice on the shelf met some minimum food safety standard.

But that isn't what happens. It immediately goes from requiring that the food is not rat poison to prohibiting donut holes and restricting hamburgers on Sundays and requiring apple pie to be served with cheese.

Conversely, the US is far more strict with diesel emissions, while the EU allows for a LOT more loopholes to favor certain companies that prop up certain economies..

The US is to my knowledge far less strict with any emissions, and have very limited emission inspection. Do you have any example of areas where the US are more strict, including inspections that validate the rules?

With regards to diesel vs. gasoline: Where I live, gasoline is 5 times more expensive than it is in the US, so diesel have been favored solely for its efficiency. We consider anything below ~25km/l (or ~60MPG) to be inefficient, and anything below ~20km/l (or ~50MPG) to be terrible, and that has been our standard for close to 20 years. NOX vs. CO2 is always a discussion, but we do our best to burn as little as possible of anything.

We also try to disincentivize owning old cars that are legal by older standards by having taxes on emission technology (e.g. no modern DPF), as well as fuel efficiency.

(Not that I'm fossil-fuel apologetic—I'm going to get an EV as soon as its affordable. Cars are pricey here.)

That's a difference in priority between particulate emissions and CO2 emissions, right? With one favoring a relative reduction in soot and the other favoring a relative reduction in CO2. That's my understanding anyway, I'm not a car guy.

Not soot. Nitrogen oxides (NOx). Soot is easily taken care of and tires create a lot or particulate emissions from road travel.

Forget sale doctrines, DRM effectively prevents a consumer from leaving to a competing service. It seems to me to be more of a matter of antitrust law since it gives a company way too much control over how a consumer, well, consumes.

There is one partial exception - digital movies.

Movies Anywhere is owned by Disney but is a partnership with four other studios. You can buy a movie from iTunes, Amazon Prime, Google Play, or Vudu and get credit for purchasing it from other stores.

There should be some crackdown on selling licenses over products. It is abused to absurd extends.

Indeed. Some stores sell this license above market rate as well compared to an actual purchase of a good. Infuriating.

The button says buy and purchase. Not rent or lease.

If it was honest and said that I suspect fewer people would buy them. Sorry, license them.

but you are buying. a license.

The argument is that if you are buying a licence, the retailer is obligated to tell you you're buying a licence. Current advertising, shopping, and checkout flows instead communicate that you are buying an eBook.

That’s a descriptive argument (describing what is, based on technicalities). I’m making a proscriptive argument about what should be. When DRM replaces an entire market, it’s reasonable for customers to have similar expectations. Eg when I die, I should be able to bequeath my library.

So does the first sale doctrine not have any teeth at all? What is to stop companies from throwing a license on everything they sell, making the first sale doctrine meaningless?

Could a bookseller add a license to a physical book, and suddenly you can't sell it or lend it out?

It does have some teeth. Disney v Redbox ended up ruling that Redbox could not resell digital copies of movies from bundle packs because Disney had in the terms that it was only allowed to be sold together.

But there is another case that went all the way to the supreme Court regarding resale of textbooks. Kurtsang v wiley. Textbook publisher Wileyclaimed that because they put "not for sale in the US" on their cheaper, but nearly identical international version textbooks, that meant they could dictate as such.

But the defendants prevailed and the supreme Court ruled that the first sale doctrine applied and lawful purchasers of the books could import them and sell them wherever they want.

This is a rather recent precedent because Costco lost a similar case v Omega a few years earlier, but it did not set a precedent.

The textbook one did.

But I suspect that there were some additional copyright and licensing complexities that made the Disney case different. Especially since it was two copies of the same item, just in different formats. Also, Disney, so probably the most experienced, well funded, and vicious gang of lawyers in existence.

But I'm not sure if a straightforward resale of a digital item has been tested in the courts. It seems with the Kurtsang v Wiley precedent, you would have a good chance of winning.

> "Could a bookseller add a license to a physical book, and suddenly you can't sell it or lend it out? "

Probably. I mean, they're already selling physical items laden with DRM (DVD/bluray), presumably in those cases they are selling you "a license to watch the disk." The ability to restrict first sale of DRM'd movies is probably on their TODO list I'd wager, or their list of greatest regrets.

Incidentally, years ago, they did manage to invent a self-destructing DVD obsensibly for rental-without-return purposes. Technology Connections has a good video about it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ccneE_gkSAs

The actual answer appears to be that you can sell add-on digital content which is licensed only for sale with the physical item, and that’s OK. But you cannot add license terms to the physical book itself, the book can be resold freely. That’s recently been affirmed by the Supreme Court.

Hypothetically if they had the technology to create a paperback book that self-destructs when anybody but you opens it, would that business model be illegal? As far as I know, SCOTUS said companies can't use the legal system to prevent resale of their books. But did they say that technical solutions are also banned?

If you buy a product which is designed for a single use, knowing that it’s a single use product, and obviously this is something that would have to fail gracefully and safely, I really don’t see a problem with that.

Obviously companies (and therefore customers) should be paying for the ecological impact of their waste product.

Has that been decided by the courts for the various digital product types (software, books, music, videos, etc.)?

> Microsoft will refund customers in full for what they paid, plus an extra $25 if they made annotations or mark-ups.

Doesn’t seem all that nefarious. Get your money back, order the paperbacks. No DRM issues again.

And what about the hours of effort put into reading, annotating, and jotting down notes on the ebook? (Typical of serious reading/research) That is worth way more than $25 -- MS is robbing people of the value they tried to create/store for their future selves. What use is a "platform" if it can't support that?

This happens every week for people using some SaaS product that gets cancelled.

DRM is content as a service, and by definition, all DRM will either be cracked or will become inaccessible eventually with probability approach 1 over time.

It's more a trust issue in a technology. Pirated ebooks don't have DRM and never expire, can be opened on any device and you keep the money anyway.

Or never buy DRM books to start with.

I own a Kindle, however I only buy ebooks from stores that offer epub and PDF as well. At max with watermarks.

Any recommendations for such stores?

I know of https://www.downpour.com for audio books and I get all my audio books from them since they are DRM-free.

Would love to know of such a service for ebooks, but for fiction.

I contribute to Standard Ebooks that takes PD text (primarily from Gutenberg but also elsewhere) and reformats it with good typography and consistent styling, before re-releasing it as public domain again. We’re coming up to 300 titles now, any problems you find can be fixed with a pull request on github if you want: https://standardebooks.org/

Baen Books


They have always been very customer friendly. They have a "free library" section, too. (Often has such things as the first book in a series.)

J Novel Club


Translated Japanese light novels. There's a membership that lets you read along as they translate, but if you purchase the ebook when they're done, it's DRM free.

And of course http://www.gutenberg.org/

It's not the same as buying DRM free, but stripping DRM from most eBook formats is pretty trivial these days, afaik. Unless something has changed in the last few years since I last bought a kindle edition of a book (which I stripped of DRM so something like this couldn't happen).

It’s not trivial for Kindle anymore. I did it recently on a Mac, and it took a fair bit of work, was complicated and confusing, and required finding an old version of the Kindle reader program and somehow preventing it from checking in with Amazon’s servers. My brother in law recently tried and failed after having done it in the past.

It's still trivial AFAIK (I last did it one or two years ago) if you have an old kindle device, and can therefore convince Amazon to send you the poorly encrypted files meant for old kindles. I use a "Kindle Keyboard" e.g. the 3rd gen. Amazon has stopped selling new-old-stock, but it seems you can still find them on ebay for somewhere between $20-50.

Incidentally this model of Kindle also comes with text-to-speach, which is a really nice feature which I believe is missing from all newer models (removed to avoid cannibalizing audio book sales.)

Keep in mind that by buying DRMed books you give companies an incentive to produce them. If you're opposed to DRM, it may be better to pirate instead. Especially if you live in a jurisdiction in which removing DRM is illegal so you're breaking the law anyway.

tor is a scifi/fantasy+adjacent publisher that famously offers drm-free ebooks


If you live in the US and have a library card, try Overdrive. You can check out a huge catalog of eBooks for essentially free (since it’s paid via your local library).

Overdrive ebooks are DRMed (or at least the majority of them are).

Overdrive primarily uses Adobe's DRM system. You can "liberate" the titles with the use of the DeDRM toolset or get the resources directly off their "libby" platform, which simply requires reassembling the assets into an EPUB

I know you can break it, but this is in response to someone asking a question about how to buy DRM-free ebooks.

Looks like some people are forgetting the first rule of Fight Club.

It’s not too hard to break this DRM. My library lets me ‘borrow’ ebooks and sometimes they are due back and I haven’t finished them.

It’s so ridiculous.

Don’t forget https://www.humblebundle.com/ for frequent book bundles.

Packt, Manning, O'Reilly

I buy mostly technical e-books.

My method is to torrent the ebook, then purchase the paperback from the author's website when I finish it.

That's still showing the dark side of DRM. However it is also Microsoft handling that dark side in a professional way.

If a game developer shuts down their game servers, do they release the binaries? Some do, I guess. I've even seen some software companies release the source if/when they shut down.

Seems very unlikely that MS can unilaterally release other people's books without DRM.

This assumes that the paperback exists. It ought to be the responsibility of the vendor to offer either a full refund or a hard copy, at the vendor's expense, including any annotations that were made on the digital copy.

While having such an option may be a good idea, one of the main appeals of ebooks for me is that I already have far too many linear feet of paper books. Giving me a hard copy adds to this problem.

Either way, let me annotate my own paper book TYVM.

Get your money back, order the paperbacks.

From where? The bookstores that no longer exist? Or hope that there is a 1/1000 chance you might get lucky and find one on fleaBay?

At least this time it's Microsoft closing down gracefully. I can't see the same happening if it's a smaller, specialized business going bankrupt and going away without the ability to mitigate the shutdown.

In a perfect world they would have put their keys + unlock tools in escrow with a service that would publish them at the first sign of a major outage.

In a perfect world there would be no DRM in the first place.

And if you don't tend to read the books again, you've made out like a bandit.

How dare you take away my right to be outraged at tech giants....

Please don't post unsubstantive comments to HN.

I think the real issue here is an improper definition of the word “buy” from a truth in advertising perspective. I think if a company says you are “buying” a digital good, then that good than access to that good should be required to be perpetual, irrevocable, available offline, and enable the user to back up to their choice of media.

This doesn't preclude the use of DRM in its entirety but is very close to the experience of buying and owning physical media, which I think meets the common perception of what "buying" means. For companies wanting to use the current DRM paradigm, they should be required to use an alternate, accurate term such as "license."

Of course this is becoming increasingly academic with the rise of subscription services, where I think all parties are aware that content is impermanent and the relationship is defined month to month.

This isn’t the first time for MS, and certainly not the first time the dark side of DRM has shown itself.

MSN music: https://www.cnet.com/news/defunct-msn-music-has-a-drm-contro...

Zune’s servers shut down in 2017, but at least you could download free MP3 versions of everything. https://www.thurrott.com/music-videos/groove-music/82201/buy...

Seems like that they in a typical Microsoft style tried to link one product to another. I can imagine that the boss of the Edge browser argued to make their bookstore Edge-only, to promote the browser that way. And that move effectively doomed the bookstore.

Its like you go to Microsoft site to search for a registry problem, and the support person tells you to use Cortana to search. Because obviously his job is not to solve your registry problem, it is to promote Cortana for Microsoft.

Microsoft's Games for Windows Live DRM servers had a close call a few years ago as well.

The whole Microsoft is one big dark side. Ok, just 80% of it.

It’s not the dark side, it’s the designed in primary side.

The ability to view drm’d content is almost just an optional side benefit.

I still think legislation should require any product sold with a buy/purchase button should be required to continue functioning even if the “product” is shut down.

That’s what’s so infuriating about DRM. Lawyers may argue that we clicked OK to some fine print somewhere, but the product is advertised as something you buy, not something you lease. That’s why I feel like the right of first sale should be legally protected.

Wait you don’t read a hundred pages of small legalese before you spend $1 on a song? Are you crazy? Who would ever skip reading such a document?

That’s why is started decrypting and making backups of my ebooks.

Happy to play the corporate’s game but only to a point. And it’s clear that one need a plan B cause corporates will go nuclear without hesitation. So I don’t feel bad at all about bending the rules on this

Same here. Most of my ebooks are bought DRM-free. But some times I want a book from a publisher that does not do DRM-free publishing. And EVERY TIME, it's a hassle : I have to link my e-reader to a specific website account. This account itself has to be linked to my email address, since there is no way to register anywhere without email nowadays...

Anyway, that makes me REALLY annoyed, so I break the DRM protection every time, just to avoid another hassle next time I reset my ereader, my Calibre library, or any other event.

Granted that does not happen very often, but I'll do anything to avoid yet another 2FA voodoo ritual across multiple online platforms just to claim ownership on a 100 pages book. I mean, come on !

The planet is on fire because we consume to much stuff. We should have the right to repair things we own. Corporate lobbying is not in the general democratic interest of the people and should be forbidden.

I mean, honestly this was clear from the moment online stores with DRM'd media started appearing. If it's not stored on your own device in a DRM free format, it can disappear at any time.

It's less 'the dark side of DRM', and more simply that DRM requires actively maintained infrastructure. When the business case isn't there to pay for that anymore (or the company goes bust), then what else can one expect?

Engineering has the concept of “fail safe”. It literally means that the failure mode is a safe mode. If the dns of the DRM server can no longer be reached, a fail safe would allow the book to continue to be read.

Wouldn't it be easy to fool such a check?

Most DRM is trivially easy to fool: Just pirate. When you circumvent DRM, you are pirating, except you paid for the privilege. You probably also have a bigger risk of being caught, as you still run the DRM software.

well, you're still supporting the people behind the works, which - believe it or not - i like to do.

and also, while the iso/tv/movie scene has strict quality rules, the ebook "scene" seems more ad-hoc. pirated ebooks are sometimes OCR scans with tonnes of spelling mistakes or weird formatting, or ancient editions.

in short, de-DRM can still be preferable.

Also, there are other ways to implement copy protection. Eg Apple moved from DRM to fingerprinting downloads so torrented music could be traced to the leaker.

Your clearly not looking in the right places. You can find good quality, recent edition copies of any relatively popular book online now.

If you want to support the people behind the works, send them money. That way you also bypass any middlemen you don't care about.

You're also sending the message that DRM is OK. So I personally prefer to just buy the DRMless or else paper version.

There could be other solutions that are harder to fake. E.g. a failsafe that an SSL pinned address returns 410 GONE. That’s stupidly cheap to run indefinitely.

> And because of digital rights management—the mechanism by which platforms retain control over the digital goods they sell—you have no recourse

I feel this is actually the relevant point - and just a sign of the things to come.

What's done with systems like DRM - but what is also directly integrated into many new products - is the ability of a producer to essentially keep full control over a product throughtout its whole lifetime - in particular, even after it was sold.

You can see this trend in a lot of different areas: IoT, connected cars, game consoles and games that must always have an internet connection, subscription-only software, etc.

I believe, consumer protections are not even remotely compared to this kind of model.

There is a non-dark side to DRM? Seriously, it just makes everything worse out of a misguided sense of greed and scarcity while not stopping piracy.

The whole concept of DRM is certifiable. Asking to have something accessible yet not accessible to the end client at the exact same time.

When it can be bypassed by capturing the output channel anyway on top of that.

When my grandfather died he left behind a huge library of books. Many were junk, some were gold. I have a bunch of ebooks, I guess no one will ever see them again.

Sounds like we need to go back to the deposit libraries that were part of copyright in the early days.

When the article mentioned Walmart's 2008 "MP3 Store" shutdown I thought the author was about to relate it to the eBook store closure via the fact that they were both Microsoft DRM systems under the hood, but the author was only comparing them ideologically. I wonder if he knew that the Walmart "MP3 store" was actually a "PlaysForSure WMA store" originally and that the Microsoft PlaysForSure shutdown is the reason for the cited 2008 shut down.

From https://help.walmart.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/63/~/music-... : "If you downloaded music from Walmart before February 2008, some of your music files may be in the Windows Media Audio (WMA) format."

Walmart shifted to selling 256k non-DRM MP3s after that, and then that store was also killed in 2011: https://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2011/08/walma...

I also can't think of the Walmart music store without thinking of this dramatic reading of a timeless 2004 (!) rant about the usability of the Walmart store in non-Microsoft browsers/players. The SWF probably won't play for most of you, but the original post is screenshotted below it: https://www.somethingawful.com/flash-tub/letter-from-interne...

There are de-DRM tools for the Kindle; I bought almost no Kindle books prior to finding them. Now I'm willing to buy some because it's relatively easy to remove the DRM.

For audio books I buy only from Downpour.com because they are DRM-free.

Any recommendations for a site selling DRM-FREE ebooks for fiction?

I haven’t used them personally, but there are several mentioned in the replies to this tweet about the MS eBook shutdown: https://twitter.com/rdonoghue/status/1144011630197522432?s=2

Fiction? What's wrong with just perusing gutenberg.org for that. If you really care about paying them for the e-books, they do take donations.

Some genres and themes have to be current to be enjoyable, and since the authors are living it's worth supporting them. So Gutenberg is awesome, but not sufficient for one's full literary diet.

I'm genuinely curious - what is the "light" side of DRM?

I can pay $10 a month to listen to any song anywhere. I assume it would cost more if I could trivially download them and stop paying. For me that is something positive.

But I'm well aware in this case that I'm not purchasing any long term licenses.

I think you may have it backwards -- it was trivial to download and listen to music and movies (Napster, Popcorntime, etc.) -- which provided pressure to produce low cost, high availability media sources. People in general want to support artists/creators and be law-abiding. Once the media corps provided easy, reasonable cost, ways to get enough of the media then people shied away from the copyright infringement that had otherwise become the easiest way to consume such media.

Publishers are more willing to trust you with their collections if you can ensure them that your platform won't be a hotbed for piracy of their content (I've worked on multiple "protection" systems for localized Japanese comics, and publishers want to know what DRM you're using and if it's strong/safe).

updates, enhancements, customer communication... none of which are notably wanting for ebooks, or require DRM.

Allows businesses to extract greater profits from their existing portfolio

In the end, most of the world's problems can be traced back greed. I suggest to add the word "profit" to the list of synonyms of greed.

Do you work for a for profit company?

Don't buy DRMed goods. If you did for some reason, make sure to break DRM and back up what you bought.

And there should be a stronger push to repeal corrupt DMCA-1201 and the like.

“Originally intended as an anti-piracy measure, DRM now functions mostly as a way to lock customers into a given ecosystem, rather than reading or viewing or listening to their purchases wherever they want. It’s a cycle that has persisted for decades, and shows no signs of abating.”

This is precisely why I use Calibre with KyBook 3. You can import ePub and pdf formats and no DRM of course.

This is why people should be legally allowed to remove the DRM from the items they purchase.

I see no reason why I shouldn't be able to remove the DRM from the books I buy for my Kindle or the like. Assuming I don't share them with friends, family or strangers (which is a different issue), the authors, publishers, & copyright holders aren't losing sales.

And this is why I only 'buy' eBooks if they're dirt cheap (<$5). Even then if I really enjoy them I'll buy a physical copy.

DRM on old model kindles is trivial to crack, the key is apparently derived from your kindle's serial number. For this reason, I transferred all of my kindle ebooks to my oldest kindle, and was then able to strip DRM from the entire library and convert to epub with Calibre+plugins.

I wager there will probably come a day when Amazon refuses to send newly purchased ebooks to old models of kindles.

Agree, but to add to that, I buy ebooks that date quickly. If it is a software reference or investment analysys or something that is dated and irrelevant in 2 or 3 years, I don’t really care if it evaporates. Which I guess is feeding he beast.

Well, Dah...?

In discussions with friends I always say "Imagine all the old books would have been e-books, and all the old DRM servers are gone. Now what?"

I have never (and will never) owned an e-book, unless it is a free of DRM.

If nothing else, at least this might get tech companies to pause and think before entering a market just because one of their competitors entered that market.

Always crack drm and save ebooks as pdf

Same happened with Zune to me, all the music turned useless at one point...

The dark side of physical books: sometimes you buy a book and then you lose it.

> The dark side of physical books: sometimes you buy a book and then you lose it.

The dark side of eBooks: sometimes you buy a book and then you lose the file.

I've lost a LOT more files, than I have books.

Sometimes Barnes & Noble break and enter my house and take off with my bookshelves.

Oh wait, nevermind, that's never actually happened.

A better analogy: Barnes and Noble sets up a reading room down the street where you can pay a discounted amount to read books rather than buy them. One day you stop by and the place is boarded up, but the guy outside apologizes and explains that they had to close because it wasn't making enough money, then he gives you a full refund plus $25.

i don't think this holds. ebooks are often the same price as paperbacks, and you still have to buy them individually.

okay, they're refunding people, which is a decent enough move (still inconvenient though). presumably, they didn't do it out of the kindness of their own heart, but to avoid controversy/lawsuits, what with public opinion slowly swinging away from DRM and towards right to repair.

> ebooks are often the same price as paperbacks

Not really.

That's not as all the right scenario. Imagine Barnes and Noble 'sold' you their books for basically retail price, then comes around and throws them into the incinerator, but at least they gave you a return.

Discounted? Ebooks cost more than paperbacks in many cases.

Publishers need to ensure that selling a copy of a book to someone does not mean that 10,000 copies are downloaded for free because that book was uploaded to a free download site. That can't happen with physical books in the same way — yes, you can scan pages and upload a PDF of the page images, but it's often a much poorer reading experience (although there was a story here just last week about bad actors selling photocopy duplicates on Amazon).

This is a hard problem for publishers. Some publishers have decided to sell ebooks without DRM — though the biggest example of this that I always pointed to for years and years, O'Reilly, stopped selling ebooks directly in 2017.[1] (It appears from that article that DRM/piracy concerns were not primary for O'Reilly, but the unprofitability of their ebook store and the rising profitability of their subscription business.)

[1] https://www.thebookseller.com/futurebook/why-oreilly-media-n...

Most publishers don't believe that it is in their best interest to sell DRM-free ebooks. (This includes all the publishers I have done business with, which is a fairly representative sample). It's not that they're trying to get rich, it's that they're trying to stay alive. Ebook sales have been declining or at best have stabilized. Physical bookstores are declining. Publishers have a fear-hate-dependency relationship with Amazon, so they would like to sell ebooks directly, but very few have achieved any profitability there, and they don't believe that selling digital files without some form of digital copy protection is going to lead to more sales.

I have not been arguing here for DRM, I am simply telling you the reality of the publishing business and how it is grappling with a very different distribution environment than what we had 20+ years ago before there was such a thing as ebooks.[2]

[2] I built my first commercially distributed ebooks in 2000 for the (old) Microsoft Reader, Palm, and Rocket Ebook platforms. I've been in the publishing industry since 1997.

Now I will argue for DRM — or at least, for finding a solution that works for everyone.

I would like to think that DRM-free ebook distribution would work for publishers, and I used to try to convince them that they should move in that direction, but two things dampened my idealism: (1) my aforementioned experience talking with western publishers about DRM-free distribution. (2) I started talking with publishers in developing-world cultures. Many of these publishers (especially in post-colonial contexts, where books were traditionally donated by ministries and thus were free) have a very hard time making ends meet, and they cannot envision getting their customers to pay for digital files that don't have some kind of protection. There is too much precedent in those places for both books and digital files to be free.

In short, very few publishers are going to embrace a solution that fails to protect their content. If you buy a copy, they need to be able to ensure that it remains a single copy.

But at the same time, few publishers think, "I love having my customers locked into Amazon's platform. It's so good for my business that Amazon owns my customers."

What we need is a system in which:

* publishers and distributors can sell ebooks to customers and ensure that those ebooks are protected as single copies

* customers can buy ebooks and ensure that they will always have access to those ebooks, on any platform that they own, no matter whose DRM servers go down (because no single entity owns the DRM / licensing platform)

* customers can loan / given their ebooks to others, either permanently or for a limited period of time

* bonus: publishers (and therefore authors!) get a royalty on the resale

* important: buyers' full purchase history is knowable only by the buyers themselves

I believe the technical infrastructure to make this sort of system possible are just now being put into place. And I believe that someone will succeed in designing, building, and selling it to the publishing industry in the next few years.

And yes, I'm looking forward to it: I would like to see the publishing industry much less dependent of a single all-powerful distributor, and more able to sell directly to their customers without intermediaries and without fear. And as a reader, I would like to be able to buy digital books (and movies, for that matter) and know that I will always have access to those copies, no matter what, without being dependent on a single distributor. Or resell them if I so choose.

[edited to reformat because hacker news doesn't speak Markdown]

When you buy things with DRM you get what you pay for: nothing. I only "buy" drm'ed products that I know I can break the drm for like kindle books and even then I rarely buy them.

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