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B&N Decides That Purchased Ebooks Are Only Yours Until Your Credit Card Expires (techdirt.com)
288 points by chanux on Nov 29, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 131 comments

As far as I understood the article, this is about a second download of a book purchased some time ago. I think in this case, it's not as clear-cut as the article makes it out to be.

To stay with the real world analogy: while the article is right that nothing will glue the pages of a physical book together once the credit card expires, it is also the case that purchasing a book once doesn't entitle you to go to the bookstore and demand another copy of the book because you lost your initial one.

I can see a technical reason which prevents the redownload by locked accounts. Or rather, I can imagine the additional work such a feature could require - work that obviously isn't going to be paid for by anybody (or rather paid for by customers who do have valid accounts and buy more media) - the card of the affected account is expired after all.

IMHO, if we want to demand that an electronic media purchase is a traditional sale, then we can't rurn around and demand that it also isn't and that we should have right to infinitely ask for additional copies - however cheap it might be to create them.

> ...then we can't rurn around and demand that it also isn't and that we should have right to infinitely ask for additional copies - however cheap it might be to create them.

oh Yes, We can. The reason we're entitled to it is the fact that DRM stands in the way of us customers backing up our purchases. If my eBook were in a format devoid of DRM & I could back it up by saving it in Droppbox or my external hard drive, then your argument would carry some weight.

To stay with the real world analogy: you also can't back up your book. You have that one copy and once it breaks, you are out of luck and have to buy a new one.

I compare the ebook readers as a physical object with the books (also physical objects). If I can read books on that device even when my credit card has expired or other things have disabled my account, then IMHO the parity to the real world exists: I have that one physical object which represents the content on it. If I lose it and don't have my account any more, well, too bad.

Of course, by centralizing many books to one physical object, you risk losing much more content as you lose that physical object. But the advantage is that, in case it breaks, it can be repaired (which might be impossible with a physical book)

Now. I know for a fact that this is how Kindle works: even if your account is gone, your books stay on your Kindle and you can continue to read them. I would assume it works the same for B&N in this case.

Being able to infinitely redownload the books is a nice convenience that goes far beyond what a physical book would allow.

Also, I haven't tried it, but these DRMed books are just files after all. It might be possible to back them up and later read them on the same device (again the physical book analogy) even if the account has been terminated.

Digital storage is far more unreliable ... when we'll have content that survived in digital form for thousands of years (or heck, I would be happy with 20 years), then we'll be able to compare apples to apples.

Also, even though I have a child at home, I never had a book that "broke" - as there's nothing that some glue can't fix. The only real danger for the preservation of books in physical form is fire.

> by centralizing many books to one physical object, you risk losing much more content as you lose that physical object

No, you got it wrong. The far bigger danger is that the eBook reader is a device running on integrated circuits and battery, which will break in only a couple of years and those B&N servers will not be online forever (I would be quite surprised if they are still online in 10 years), it's only a question of when that will happen.

And making this whole thing defective by disallowing people to backup their books however they want is the most evil and stupid thing I've ever seen. DRM is defective by design and no matter how much you try painting this crow, it's still a crow.

> The only real danger for thhe preservation of books in physical form is fire.

Also water.

If we are talking about valuable books, then content can be recovered at least partially from a wet book, depending on how good the printing ink and paper were and how long that book stayed under water.

Fire is more dangerous than floods and historically we've lost more books by fire than from anything else, although I'm pretty sure there are effective methods to recover content partially from books that are only partially burned.

The durability of physical books is amazing and the only thing going for digital content is that the cost of copies is zero, which means you can easily make backups in multiple places of this world instantly and retrieve those backups with whatever device you happen to have in front of you. Unfortunately that's exactly what DRM is trying to prevent.

Also bugs.

Also rodents.

My 15 month old daughter has started being a little destructive to books as well.

So aside from fire, water, rodents, bugs and children, what could possibly happen to a physical book?

Other than loss and theft of course.

Dust, and dust removal, and dust prevention, present risks to old books.



Some oppressive regimes will confiscate some books. I don't know what happens to that book afterwards.

"The far bigger danger is that the eBook reader is a device running on integrated circuits and battery, which will break in only a couple of years and those B&N servers will not be online forever (I would be quite surprised if they are still online in 10 years), it's only a question of when that will happen."

But you knew this when you bought the e-book. If companies were selling DRM-protected e-books but labeling them as DRM-free, that would be fraud. But (AFAIK) they're not.

I personally know about it, that's why I rarely buy DRM-protected content in general and I only do so for content I only want to watch / read / hear once or twice. Good movies, good books, good music - these are things for which I want to keep a personal library and so I stay away from DRM.

Unfortunately from what I've seen, the public has no idea what DRM is, as the technical details are hard to understand. When buying a DRM-protected copy of something, that copy is not yours, you don't own your copy in any way, your only right is time-limited access to that copy, you know like renting with a public library subscription (it's actually even worse, since when renting something you usually have a contract that guarantees availability for a specific time period, whereas with DRM you never know for how long it will last).

And I disagree with your point on advertising - because buying something DRM-protected is really renting, customers should be informed of this.

Jeff Bezos has said in interviews that he doesn't believe in books, only reading. Reading changes you, and you don't need to have an artifact. That was his argument for the Kindle.

Should charge by the word read perhaps? Though I'd get charged extra at night when I wrestle with the same paragraph repeatedly before passing out.

Not so. AFAIK none of the major ebook retailers go out of their way to mention this, and they target their marketing towards consumers who are not savvy enough to know to ask. They will only inform you of the DRM when you run into one of the limitations it imposes.

EDIT: Actually, I should clarify. One ebook retailer does make this explicit — Google. But I wasn't counting them because they don't "own" a market segment and you'd probably be pretty savvy to be buying from them anyway.

Good point. Not sure if it's still applicable, but wasn't it such that you couldn't carry your iTunes library over international borders?

If it's DRM'd then I'd expect to pay far less for it. I've got a Kindle, and I won't buy any books for it - because I feel so uneasy about where I stand on this. Which is a shame really. Add to that, that paper copies are somehow cheaper a lot of the time, and that I can pass /sell them on, after reading. Prevents me from becoming spineless.

Amazon used to have DRM-free mp3 advertisements.

And cool t-shirts.

Don't Restrict Me!

I don't know about B&N but you can easily go though the Amazon checkout process without any mention of DRM. Most people only learn about it when DRM prevents them from doing something they would otherwise assume they could do like read there book on a nook.

Who is buying a kindle book and expecting to read it on nook?

I do. I use Calibre to remove DRM and convert. The Nook is a superior device for reading (though haven't compared it to the Paperwhite yet.)

so why don't you just buy from b&n?

But wouldn't it be so much nicer if there was no DRM on e-books. That's a law worth lobbying.

And for the record. Norwegian law states that you can freely distribute anything you own to a few friends and also make backups of it. DRM is technically illegal in Norway, but no one has brought a case to court over it yet.

IANAL but I would imagine that DRM per se isn't illegal but any anti-circumvention clause in the EULA would not be enforceable in a court provided that copies were made for the purposes of backup.

Not so fast. Anti-circumvention laws are everywhere, we aren't talking about EULAs here.

The DMCA act in the USA prohibits DRM removal, under all circumstances, even if we are talking about your own content for which you own the copyright.

In Canada bill C-61 also made DRM circumvention illegal. In Europe too. It is unclear to me how these fare to the DMCA, because it might be that only providing the tools and information for doing that is illegal. But in Europe, even if we are talking only about the tools being illegal, if you end up removing the DRM protections from some content, it can be argued that's changing the format, which is a different thing but also illegal.

It is worth pointing out that pieces of software, like CloneCD [1], are illegal even in Europe, even though this software only makes exact copies and does not change the format (it does not remove DRM).

And the US, being the 800-pound gorilla that it is, is constantly pushing others for copyright reforms similar to the DMCA.

Also, whenever you're talking about "fair use", you're always in a gray and dangerous area, as fair use clauses are intentionally ambiguous, so sentences are passed based on subjective reasoning based on context and in the US on precedents. If fair use is your defense, then more often than not you're screwed if you can't afford competent lawyers.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CloneCD

I meant specifically norway (though admittedly I don't know what the law actually is there) but the GP suggests that the law allows one to make backup copies of your files.

Norway is not an EU member state, so normal european laws will not necessarily apply there.

Here in the UK I'm not aware of any specific laws that would make owning software like CloneCD illegal, though it could be used in ways that might be considered illegal.

Well, the situation might be different within members of EU, as EU directives are more like agreements for achieving an end-result, without specifying exactly how the law must be implemented locally. So for instance fair-use clauses might or might not hold.

What I don't like is that the US has so much leverage that they are able to efficiently push dumb and evil reforms (e.g. ACTA) and the representatives of many countries simply sign agreements without blinking or thinking about it.

You don't have to go so far as to outlaw DRM. Books are usually exempt from sale taxes and VAT, right? Make it so only e-books without DRM protection have the same exemption.

I don't think most consumers have really thought the whole thing through. Anecdotally I would say most people don't back up files without DRM, e.g. digital photos. I'm sure for everybody reading this comment it seems really obvious that you would want to back up your photos. If the average consumer doesn't understand the very real possibility of total data loss and losing all of those photos, why would they even consider the downsides of purchasing and downloading e-books onto a single device?

Granted I'm mostly playing devil's advocate here, but I think it's entirely silly to expect people to know things that are very firmly technical knowledge and not common sense. The person you replied to might have known that their eBook reader is prone to failure but what about the vast majority of consumers?

What? Do B&N tel you that you can't backup their ebooks on their marketing material?

The difference is, my bookshelf space at home is something I can choose - the internal space on my locked down device is not - so to carry on buying new books, I have to remove old content. This is saying I cannot get my content back (content I PAID for) without a CC on file.

The real world analogy does not work here - as I can carry on storing the books I want, and am fully aware that when I choose to remove a book, then I no longer have it - the expectation with a digital purchase, is that they hold my virtual bookself. If they don't then they need to make that clear, and provide ways for me to take on that responsibility.

>This is saying I cannot get my content back (content I PAID for) without a CC on file.

You didn't pay for a book in the abstract. You paid for a DRM-protected file, and you got it.

No. Unlimited (non-abuse-level) downloads are part of the original understanding. There are services that give you a single copy of a file but they are rare.

I'm sure that maintaining your account is part of the original understanding too.

Just for the record, I think that anti-circumvention laws are absurd, and that EULAs aren't worth the RAM they consume. But I also think it's childish to buy a DRM-protected e-book from a company, terminate your account with that company, and then expect them to let you download another copy of the e-book for free.

The issue wasn't account termination - the account was still live, just without a valid CC on file. Which does not equal termination.

I can photocopy or scan every page. It may not be easy, but it's doable, and the publisher does not have technology that actively prevents me from doing this.

You can photocopy every page of your ebook too. Probably even easier to accomplish!

Unless I am mistaken, that would/could be legally considered circumventing DRM, and would therefore be technically illegal despite fair use (which would permit you to photocopy the print book legally).

I'm not sure there's a difference in photocopying an entire book and doing the same to a DRM book. Do you know specifically that there is a difference?

One is a federal felony, other is a fair use.

EDIT: Specifically, it is against the law to break DRM (unless for few cases outlined by library of Congress), and the law as written makes no exceptions for fair use. The courts have also held in positive that it was Congress intend to make breaking DRM a crime even if there is a fair use case.

... Except that's wrong. It's not fair use to photocopy an entire book and it never has been. Let's not lose sight of the actual laws in our blind rage against DRM.

Making private complete copies is legal in most countries, in particular European ones. Private copying levy stems from this concept. Photocopy an entire book for private use only is thus perfectly legal if you are in one of those countries which allows it.

Not all of Europe. It certainly isn't allowed in the UK but we don't have a levy on recordable media. It isn't even legal to rip music to listen to on a computer or an mp3 player. Not that this law is widely followed (or to my knowledge enforced).

There is discussion to create a global EU levy, but I didn't know UK did not already have it. To my knowledge, France, UK, Holland, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Norway has it, as well some of the baltic states.

If you put that copy directly into a safe and only drag it out when the original is destroyed, it sounds perfectly legal under fair use to me.

Copy a physical book and you have infringed on its copyright. Copy an ebook with DRM and you have done the same, AND run afoul of the DMCA.

Lets not lose sight of the fact that DRM does present a different situation by pulling additional laws into play, in our blind defense of DRM.

The DMCA kicks in if there is DRM involved.

@pilif, you're allowed to backup CDs and DVDs, why not books?

Are you allowed to do that in the US? I thought backing up a (movie) DVD would be considered circumventing DRM (CSS in this case) ?

I'm not sure it's ever been tested (and potentially never will be as it's unlikely anyone would be taken to court over genuine backups I suspect).

Isn't this one of those areas which even if it is potentially technically illegal is likely to practically never be an issue?

You can strip off DRM from an ebook. It's as illegal as photocopying every page, but slightly less cumbersome to do.

Where is it illegal to make a photocopy of your OWN book ? As far as I know, you are in your right to make a copy of something that you own for private use.

They're probably referring to the scare-o-grams posted at and recited by employees of copy shops.

Wrong. Photocopying for personal use is legal under fair use provisions. The only reason why it's not legal to do so with DRM-encumbered ebooks is because of the DMCA.

The DMCA forbids circumventing an encryption system. Photocopying the words on an ebood screen would not seem, to me, to be circumvention since the content was decrypted entirely as designed to put those words on the screen.

It might be copyright infringement, but would almost certainly be covered by fair use assuming it was not then distributed to others.

I've never heard of a DMCA case prosecuted against someone who photocopied the screen of a ebook reader. If you know of one, I'd be interested to read it.

> I've never heard of a DMCA case prosecuted against someone who photocopied the screen of a ebook reader.

In practical terms, the DMCA doesn't result in prosecutions of people who break DRM for personal use. It results in the prosecution of people who produce/distribute software that breaks DRM to allow consumers to copy media for personal use, because there is no practical way to find people who are breaking DRM for personal purposes.

I can't speak as to photocopying the screen of an ebook reader since that has never happened (to my knowledge), but here's a similar case:

Blu-ray discs are encrypted with AACS[0]. If someone were to make a program that, in real time, takes screencaps of a movie being played back by a legal Blu-ray disc player and records the audio output from the player, then recombines that fully unencrypted data into a video file also without DRM, that person would most definitely get hit with a lawsuit on the basis of the DMCA.

0: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Advanced_Access_Content_System

I'm not sure what DRM your publisher is using that actively prevents you from backing things up if you're willing to exert a modest amount of effort (probably less than photocopying an entire paper book).

>you are out of luck and have to buy a new one.

Yes. A new version of that book, not a new version of every book in your library.

>Of course, by centralizing many books to one physical object, you risk losing much more content as you lose that physical object. But the advantage is that, in case it breaks, it can be repaired (which might be impossible with a physical book)

Which is irrelevant if the company doesn't allow you to redownload the data, as in this story.

You can put the DRMed files on Dropbox and then copy them to your Nook. This isn't a DRM issue, just dumb business practices.

While I can't speak to the DRM issues here, I can say that it's definitely silly to me. Valve lets me download games and films for gigs as much as I like. The idea that I could do that with ebooks? Why, I could rack up... Megabytes of bandwidth for them! Maybe even a Gigabyte!

Okay, maybe that's a bit assholish of me to phrase it that way, but it really does seem like an odd decision to me as a user.

> Valve lets me download games and films for gigs as much as I like

only if you have a valid account with them. Which is the exact issue the original article was complaining about. Now, a Steam account stays valid even after the credit card has expired, but if you lose that account for whatever other reason, all your content is gone.

Which is worse than many ebook readers because they will allow you to continue to access your content even once the account is gone. Steam OTOH doesn't. No account? No login. No login? No content (their offline mode is too unreliable to be called that).

How exactly do you lose an online account?

PayPal backs out of a transaction and locks your account after you try and pay steam with it. Steam say, hey, you didn't pay us, we're locking your account and you lose all your games that you've bought so far. True story, happened to my brother. Took hours on the phone to sort out. Still never using paypal for anything like that again.

Can you explain in more detail? How could you owe steam money if you didn't finish the transaction? Did paypal somehow promise steam the money long enough to complete the transaction and then pull takesie-backsies?

That is typically exactly what is claimed by the victims, that paypal first completes, and then is later rescinded/charged back for whatever reason; steam then removes access to the account. I've heard a wide enough variety of paypal horror stories in general that I presume it's not all a case of user error.

This isn't a reply directly to you, Winthrowe. But more to this line of thread.

The wrongs of Paypal have been mentioned, but most account blocking happens when a user violates Steam's TOS. Being an abusive jerk online while logged in and playing games. Or cheating.

Now, I think that's bullshit. You still paid for those games. I think you should own them. Completely. At most they should block you from their servers and their online play.

But with Steam you can easily download any title you own as many times as you like. Steam has its own problems, but this they got right. You can even back them up quite easily. (Man, that used to be a broken tool, but even it's good now.)

Steam was removing access to his account basically because it felt like he didn't pay for some games in it. Which is reasonableish (the ones he had from before really shouldn't be affected. It'd be better if it just removed the games he bought with paypal). It's like if someone has their check bounce on you, they don't get to keep whatever they paid for.

There's a difference between a VAC ban and a TOS ban. VAC ban means you can no longer play (mostly Valve) games online.

A TOS ban means your account is no longer usable.

Since the money was a gift to my brother, it wasn't tied to a bank account, which made paypal suspicious.

You don't have any real control over that account. I can think of ways to lose an account and while not all of them are very likely, I wouldn't be surprised to see all of them happen in, say, the next five years or so if they haven't already happened:

The database could get corrupt or the data center burnt down and if the service provider hasn't a good backup strategy your account could be gone. The same goes for unauthorized access to the database or your account, it can be removed without your say so. Or the service provider is shut down by the government for whatever reason. Or worse, your country decides that the service provider may not operate in your country and that all accounts of people from your country should be removed and they comply. Or some governmental agency takes all the servers of your service provider and won't give them back (in one piece).

Only if you put it back onto the same Nook, because the DRM uses your device identification number to lock the file to one specific Nook.

Are you sure? I thought it was account-based. I'm pretty sure my girlfriend gave me one of her Nook books once.

I think your point here is valid - if backup options are restricted via DRM, then the company does have at the least a moral obligation to provide re-downloads. Companies like Barnes and Noble that probably have very thin margins would do well to enact business practices that gain them long-term customers.

At the same time, a physical bookstore doesn't force me into storing my copy of their book in one specific bookcase by making it impossible to move my books from my loungeroom bookcase to my bedroom bookcase.

If you're going to put DRM hurdles in my way to make it difficult to move a book I "bought" from you between my phone, my tablet, my ereader, and my laptop; then yeah - I'll get outraged at you when you refuse to allow me to redownload it. I never asked for "infinite additional copies", B&N are forcing that requirement on people who need to move DRMed files between devices.

  >  if we want to demand that an electronic media
  > purchase is a traditional sale
Were these ebooks really treated as traditional sales? While we might want to get to a place where they are, if they are currently not treated as such, then why shouldn't we get the supposed benefits of the current model? If part of the agreement terms of the purchase are that you can download from B&N indefinitely once you purchase the ebook, then they should honor that, regardless of the state of your credit card.

If the e-book is being sold in the same way and marketed as a physical book but on a digital media, always accessible, they yes, we can indeed demand the right to have access to it.

If however, in the very unlikely scenario, they market those books as temporarily rented products, and clearly informed the consumer of this fact (to the point of informed decision, by legal definition), then the customer can only expect what was informed at the time of purchase.

By the sound of the article, this is not the case however. If the company had been located in the EU, they would be in violation of a number of consumer protection laws.

Why do people always go back to analogies to physical objects/scenarios when discussing digital content?

Obviously going back to a physical bookstore and demanding to get another copy of a book you lost is not something that anyone would do, but why is this so far fetched for an eBook? At least as long as that eBook is on sale (and on their servers), I don't see the ability of re-download being a major technical hurdle -- nor are B&N actually losing a copy of the book (as a physical bookseller would).

> Why do people always go back to analogies to physical objects/scenarios when discussing digital content?

Because it's hilarious, just look at them! See it's exactly like when you try to fit many clowns into a tiny car, and you know you could fit in just one more, if only you could remove the steering wheel to make room. Except it's got a steering wheel lock. Now in a traditional car, one of the clowns would hand you the key, but with DRM, that clown is a robot and it's stuck behind all the other ones, just out of your reach.

See how that works? Now it's your turn. For instance you could try arguing my analogy is flawed because in the EU, most cars are even tinier.

With out even the ability of backing up the files on the device how can we really agree with this point of view? If I buy a pulp book and my bookshelf breaks I can still pick up my books off the floor. If my e-reader for what ever reason stops working and I have to replace it then should the manufacturer have to claim responsibility for my losses?

Excellent point.

I really like the idea getting of an e-reader, but if I do, I will ONLY buy DRM-free content. I will do this with the understanding that I'm responsible for backing up my books.

If I did understand the book to be licensed and DRMed, I would demand that my "rental" be labeled as such as come with a guaranteed period of availability via re-download.

The simple fact is that the ebook experience sucks all the way around. I gave it a shot with the Nook Touch, and I really dislike it, even if DRM wasn't an issue.

Over the years my subconcious has grown used to indexing the story according to certain physical properties of the book. "Oh yes, that happend about a cm in on the right side page, like halfway down" is something I might think- but this coordinate system doesn't work with an e-reader. Seeing the cover art each time counts, too. I also rather like (and miss) the small stains, tears and incidental damage that normal books get. There's also the matter of distraction - now that my book is a device I can't help but fiddle with it. Finally, even though the quality is very good on my Nook Touch, I can see the pixels and I find it distracting.

Maybe some or all of these concerns will go away in time, but then there's also the (rather stunning) fact that ebooks are MORE expensive than the paperback - this, even though the cost of production is negligible, and typically you can't share or bequeath your e-library, etc.

And then on top of all these objections B&N does something asinine like this...let's just say that I'll be perfectly happy reading paper books for a long long time.

Your experience is with ereaders is nearly the complete opposite of mine (putting DRM aside, like you).

I love that I don't have to remember my page or use a bookmark, I love that I can change the font size, I love that I can select a word and get an instant definition for it, and I love how light it is to carry around and much more comfortable to read with. I prefer them over real books in every way (though, I'm from Australia where a hardback is $50 and a paperback is around $20-$25, so ebooks are cheaper for me).

>I love that I don't have to remember my page or use a bookmark

Is keeping your place really a problem for you? I've never found it to be. Those rare times I lose my place serve as a quick and easy review. And, actually I tend to use whatever is handy as a bookmark, which also adds to the charm of any particular book, now that I think about it.

You are absolutely right about the weight!

It wasn't a huge problem, but it's a problem I'm glad I don't have now.

Don't forget the ease of one-handed reading, and the ability to lay the e-reader down, e.g. to type out a passage. Neither of those are convenient at all with the books I read, unless I want to horribly mangle my book. Unlike GP, I prefer to keep my books pristine.

Yes, it is rather nice to lay the book perfectly flat on a surface. But I tend to read sitting on a couch rather than a chair, or laying in bed, and the Nook form factor is lovely but isn't as good as a book most of the time. Consider how a paperback sort of gently 'clamps' onto your thumb as you hold it, or, if you are lying on your side reading, the 'unread' side lies flat and the 'reading' side sticks up straight, perfectly. With the nook I have to balance the edge on the bed and it's not weighted down by 'unread' pages.

Maybe one day they'll release an e-reader which is more like a paperback book: cover art, hinged with two reading sides, some visual indicator of where you are in your current book, etc. More

I agree on your point about visual indexing. There's one more reason I prefer paper books - when I read a book, I take something from it, be it technical knowledge, be it "self help" type of advise. When this book is sitting there near my work desk, in a bookshelf, a small glance at it triggers back those memories and values gained, therefore I find it easier to apply the knowledge from the book, when it's constantly reminding me of it's existence. With ebooks, it would just end up somewhere hidden deep into the folder structure or in an index of some app (iBooks for example) and the memories of it slowly fade.

You might try an e-ink device. That will solve your problems of fiddling and pixelation. I find them far more comfortable to read as well.

Regarding your memory system, this is a matter of changing habits.

As for the nostalgia, I could tell you I miss my CRT and the clack of a first generation remote, or the times when video content was limited so everyone watched the same thing, of when folks could design with their hands and wrote letters. Times change.

I too love physical books, but I won't buy them these days because the convenience of ebooks is just too great.

>You might try an e-ink device.

The Nook Touch is an e-ink device. The pixelation thing is the lowest on the list.

Two more things: the feeling of a scam, and ebooks are editable. It seems far-fetched, but the possibility exists that a malefactor can literally edit every copy of a book from a central location. This possibility does not exist with physical books.

E-books feel like a scam, and I admit it's not entirely rational - although I will say that paying $10 for bits vs. $7 for paper just doesn't seem rational, and it's a change that only seems to benefit a small few. E.g. if e-books offered authors a bigger cut, then I'd be more supportive of them. If the royalty was 50% of $10 vs. 10% of $7 I'd say that reason alone made ebooks a better choice for readers wanting to support authors. But as ever, the system seems to benefit the few with customer reach, rather than the few with some actual talent. And that is a failure of our society as much as it is a failure of the market.

For me, visual indexing is only important for text books or technical books. For any other materials (novels?), that's unimportant.

So for technical stuff I prefer to read a PDF version of the eBook (that is the precise copy of the actual book), and for novels I don't mind using an EPUB format, where the layout is not exact.

Totally agree with the visual indexing thing. I only just started reading a few technical ebooks since I didn't want to be lugging them all over the place– I never would've guessed how annoying the experience would be. For now I've gone entirely to PDFs because I can still index almost just as well, but more importantly I don't have to wear out the day just to print out the chapter and stick it in a binder.

The problem with ebooks (as with software and other files) is, that they are simpy not physical goods. From the viewpoint of a consumer, a nice advantage of files is the essentially zero costs of replacement, so that I can resonably expect a vendor to replace a copy lost due to an accident. (Unlike with a physical book, where replacement costs actual money.) On the other hand, I have the means of production for an ebook. ( A computer, production of files means copying, just as producing a car means copying a prototype.) This means, I can actually compete with the vendor of an ebook, by pirating it. ( A car does not need DRM, because I would need a factory before I can start to pirate it.)

So I believe, that analogies like "glue the pages of a book shut" and "selling" are misleading. The much more interesting question is, what is a reasonable default licence for digital goods? Or to pose the question slightly differently, what can each side of a default licence agreement reasonable expect of each other?

Are you suggesting that digital goods cannot be sold and can only be licensed? What is your basis for this? It seems to me that this was a sale of goods. The fact that the goods are in digital format is irrelevant. It is unlikely that the courts will treat the sale of a book the same as a software license. Ultimately sales of goods are governed by law, and one party is not permitted to breach their contracts.

This depends on the exact meaning of sale. It is certainly possible to implement a license agreement, that looks very much like a sale of a physical object. However I think that such a license agreement would be unenforceable, essentially because a physical good has a certain uniqueness. It makes sense to talk about 'my car' which is distinct from 'your car.' ( And if someone steals 'my car', I am able to identify this specific car.) By contrast, I can not really talk about 'my mp3 file' because there is simply no difference between my file and any of its copies. This applies also to watermarked files, since given a copy of a watermarked file you can not determine if this specific representation of the file was created by the original licensee or from an intermediate copy.

So the important point of me buying a book, is that a unique physical object becomes mine, by contrast there is no such thing as a unique digital object. [ IANAL, it is entirely possible, that there is some case law which defines a sale of software. But my point is, that this would be kind of a default license.]

See also


which had a huge influence on my thinking about digital goods. (Or economics in general.)

OK, BUT bear in mind that UNTIL such a complicated new kind of relationship between two persons is set up, whenever some interaction looks like a purchase-sale agreement, IT IS SO. Even more if you read "BUY" this ebook everywhere.

Having had to get my hands dirty in the murky world of Adobe DRM, I am pretty sure this is actually an implementation problem with how Barnes & Noble have implemented it.

As crazy as it may seem, I believe in the B&N case the DRM licence is based on the credit card details.

Hence no more credit card, no more licence.

One day I may do a longer post how horrifyingly awful Adobe DRM is technically, (never mind the ethics), but knowing what I know, this is not any sort of surprise.

I don't doubt that Adobe DRM may be awfl, but when the customer isn't allowed to download the book, how does the DRM implementation enter into it? The DRM (as embedded in the ebook files) isn't in play here.

The default Adobe DRM implementation requires that you need an Adobe ID (i.e. an account with Adobe) to access the book. (DRM licences are against Adobe accounts)

The bigger players who use Adobe DRM (Like B&N) of course don't want this, so there are alternative schemes where you can use a token to represent the user that is not the Adobe ID.

In the B&N case, I believe that token is based on the credit card details.

You also only download the actual encrypted epub after the DRM licence has been applied. (The initial download is a small XML file which your Adobe RMSDK app uses to decide if you have access to the ebook)

ergo, no valid credit card, no valid account to unlock DRM, and get access to the actual content file.

Ah, the credit card number is part of the encryption/decryption key [1]. Since it seems unlikely that the Nook decrypts the book once and stores a decrypted copy, the Nook also must store the credit card number--or hopefully a hashed version of it. Apparently so [2].

[1] "I cannot unlock my books" at http://www.barnesandnoble.com/u/nook-books-frequently-asked-...

[2] http://i-u2665-cabbages.blogspot.fr/2009/12/circumventing-ba...

The credit card number is the decryption key. The DeDRM tools for Calibre only require the credit card you used to purchase the book. In contrast, Amazon encryption only requires the serial number for the Kindle you are pulling the books off of.

I discoveried some nice article to help you resolve this problem:

Remove drm from adobe: http://www.epubsoft.com/how-to-remove-drm-from-adobe.html

How to share nook books: http://www.epubsoft.com/how-to-share-nook-books-with-my-frie...

All this theoretical user needs to do is update their credit card details in their account. Any credit card will do, whether it's the original with a new date or a different one.

This issue has nothing to do with DRM, and is simply the result of a system that requires an account to be in good standing (i.e. has a valid credit card) before any downloads can be made.

Obviously this is an issue that should be fixed, but there isn't even any evidence that any attempts were made to contact B&N - just someone encountering an error message in B&N's software.

I'm as against DRM as anyone else here but this is a non-story.

I was thinking this too. By the way the article reads it has nothing to do with the DRM on the ebook itself. How can the DRM on the ebook be the problem if one cannot download the ebook in the first place?

This is a customer service issue, not a DRM issue.

It's really simple: I buy ebooks, then break the DRM so that I can make a backup. If it wasn't possible to break the DRM, I wouldn't buy them.

Non-DRM'd books are better, of course.

I want my descendents to be able to read my e-books just as easily as they can read my physical books. So my conversions include collapsing rich text to plain text, which I am reasonably sure will survive format changes over the next 100 years.

Exactly. I currently buy books on my kindle and use Calibre with plugins to strip the DRM on import. Before I had a kindle, I would use iTunes to purchase books and use Requiem to strip DRM from them.

I don't go to the extreme of converting to plain text. Epub is a zipped collection of html. There should be tools to extract data from those for a very long time into the future.

Spot on. The whole DRM situation is ridiculous. I would never buy an eBook if I couldn't strip away the DRM. Same goes for music. Who in his/her right mind would buy content that he/she doesn't really own?

I would blame this on a badly designed system rather than deliberate attempt at DRM.

i.e. Product owner goes to dev: We want to make sure that customers always have a valid credit card on file so that when they go to purchase it doesn't distract them (etc, etc).

Dev makes it so that you can't do anything with the website until you've updated your expired credit card.

I agree and it created a shitty situation. But I have to believe B&N did not intentionally institute this policy and will quickly change it.

Having worked at B&N, I believe this is the case, as a credit card is required to be on file even when paying for ebooks with a gift card.

I don't think it's DRM related or a publisher requirement. I think it's of B&N own initiative to keep your credit card on file in order to facilitate potentially future purchases. Either way, it's misguided & customer hostile. as long as this policy is in effect, I'll never buy an ebook from them again.

I have another word for similar policies, sleazy.

Occam would probably disagree with you. Absent evidence of malevolent intent, I'd chalk this up to a mediocre designer who didn't ask enough questions of himself or his subject matter experts.

I respectfully disagree. I think the reason is pure greed.

Greed is a natural human feeling that usually comes from a basic survival instinct. That's why greed is deeply embedded in our society. Also, that's another reason why Vulcans are superior to humans.

Yes, greed is deeply embedded. But it rests on a bedrock of stupidity and incompetence. And even the dullest of greedy bastiges can figure out that if Money = Good, then pissing off the people who have it, and who, until you pissed them off, wanted to give you some, = Bad.

No argument at all on the superiority of Vulcans (or whales, for that matter) to humans.

There isn't a ''real world'' analogy. This is a sale of goods and as such is governed (in the USA) by Article 3 of the Uniform Commercial Code. All sales, whether the goods are digital or not, carry an implied warranty of merchantability. This means that the product sold can be used under normal circumstances. Here, the buyer received nothing for his money. Do not be distracted by the digital world of downloads, DRM and software licenses, the UCC nevertheless applies. B&N has stores all over the country and is subject to small claims courts and perhaps even class actions. After a few lawsuits they will wake up and stop this practice.

I think that Louis CK really nailed down the way to distribute digital content. Few streams per key + a drm free download, that is up to you how to back up with no obligations after that for him.

Nook was the second major entry as a consumer e-reader but lost because they didn't think about user experience. You went into the store to download and buy ebooks? Convenience anyone? No? What about the lower secondary color screen before the color came out. Why? Then it was a rootable android device, not so bad, but they just didn't focus on what was important. Their online book store sucked compared to Amazon. They just couldn't compete. Also had a mortar business tying them down, but that isn't much of an excuse because Amazon had a ton of other stuff on their plate. Seriously, from what I hear from someone that interviewed- they had no clue what they were doing on the online side and wanted to reinvent it but didn't know how. It has been a huge fail.

I like their mortar stores but I haven't shopped there is ages, so I imagine that others are the same. They need to drop the nook or at least completely reimagine it and rebrand it (nooks are for english muffins), start up a second online team completely physically separate from the current one hiring top talent for UX and focus on a non-backlit color e-ink screen for whatever the rebranded ereader is called. The mortar stores aren't cheap to run either, and most stores are way too huge for the amount they sell. That needs to change also.

Basically, they need serious, serious help. It is a shame that B&N used to be the epitome of a bookstore, but now it is seriously flailing against a company that sells more other stuff than it does books. But who knows, maybe taxes will kill the Amazon giant.

Honestly, amazon has been pulling bullshit like this on me as well. I'm always flashing new ROMs and swapping phones for my job, many books on the amazon Kindle app simply refuse to download any more saying I've exceeded the license. ;/ They really need to put in the description that the book will be useless to me...

Go into manage your Kindle and deregister your non-existent device accounts.

Problem solved.

I got the solution: cloud media! You must stream your product from a central server as you use it, and the server can ensure that you aren't reading more than one book at a time, nor are you reading the same book in multiple locations.

I guess we are good ways away from that...

This has nothing to do with DRM, it is a crappily designed customer authentication system. If B&N had any sense they would offer customers the ability to redownload their purchases at any time after say, 120 days, for an additional 25c.

People can redownload their purchases at any time for 0 cents, whether it's 120 days or 3 years later. They just need to have a current credit card on file. Question the wisdom of that if you will, but there's absolutely no recharging people or disabling of access.

This website has not shown up properly for me once in the last 10 minutes... No style sheet, missing end of html or times out each time... Incase anybody from the site reads this.

> strip the drm off of the ones you purchase so you can you the book you BUY on all your devices

This attitude right here is part of the misunderstanding, and part of the problem. You haven't BOUGHT the ebook. You've paid for a license, and in all likelihood, that license prevents stripping the DRM.


Funny, the button clearly says "Buy now". Not "License now" or anything else. If retailers want to make that distinction clear thats fair enough, otherwise I'm perfectly happy with the attitude you refer to.

"Buy now" makes sense because you would be buying a license.

Although I do agree that the distinction between a product with DRM and a license to use a product with DRM does not seem well distinguished. Exactly what you are obtaining should be spelled out, at least in some form of legalese somewhere that you see when you buy the product, not just in some document buried on the website you're browsing.

I don't see any mention of the fact that I'm buying a license on the page. Whatever about the hacker news set, but you can't honestly expect average consumers to pick up on this distinction without a very clear and obvious "DRM for dummies" tutorial. Legalese won't cut it. This nonsense is unethical and dishonest.

That's kind of my point. The fact that retailers don't make this clear is a problem. Regardless though, all you're buying is a license. What could it even mean "buy an ebook?"

First suicide: 1gb of space on the Nook Tablet for user data. Second suicide: This


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