Friday, May 06, 2011


Few writers rushing to self-publish electronic versions of their titles give much thought to DRM - Digital Rights Management. Indeed few authors even know what it is or the implications.

However, you will have experienced some of what DRM does when you:
  • can't reload software onto another computer,
  • can't make a back-up copy of software,
  • can't purchase an e-book in your country,
  • bought an e-book and can't read it on another type of e-reading software or reader,
  • can't convert an e-book to another format,
  • can't print or copy an e-book,
  • can't borrow a specific e-title from your library,
  • can't lend or share an e-book (though some work is being done on this).
Actually DRM controls access and use of more than e-books. It controls access and use of software, music, and videos too. DRM is applied by the publisher of these items. Remember the brouhaha over sharing of music files, etc? DRM fixed that.

This is a highly controversial issue and I emphasize that I am not a lawyer. The laws in Canada and the USA differ on DRM and copyright. I'm simply a nonfiction author who has an e-reader, self-publishes some titles electronically, and follows the issue. This post is an initial summary (there's more to come) and is not to be taken as advice, just info to start writers pursuing the topic.

"DRM is any technology that inhibits uses of digital content that is not desired or intended by the content provider," writes Wikipedia. In the case of e-books, "content provider" means the publisher. If you use an e-publishing service, and most of us do, that service is the "content provider", not you, and they will or will not apply DRM to your books. You have no choice. Commercial publishers can apply many levels of DRM to your books, such as what countries the title will available in, what mobile devices can deliver the title, etc. I have yet to see a clause about that in my contracts! Again, no choice for the author.

Those companies that apply DRM do so stating that it prevents copyright infringement and piracy. Maybe it does; maybe it doesn't - there isn't much evidence yet. Some publishers of public domain titles apply DRM too, but this is more about protectionism. But DRM certainly prevents some uses of books that are legal, in other words, not in contravention of copyright laws. 

So DRM is a knotty problem and one that has yet to play out fully. I'm certain it will evolve.

Now for some practical tips for authors considering self-e-publishing:
  • Do your homework and learn all you can about DRM - there's lots out there - and decide what is best for your type of book and the stage of your writing career.
  • Smashwords does not apply DRM to any titles they prepare for all mobile devices.
  • Kindle Direct Publishing applies DRM, their DRM.
  • If you're considering another e-pubbing service, find out the details of their DRM policy.
  • If you want your major opus freely available to the world and are not worried about piracy, choose a publishing service that does not apply DRM.
One last thought:  The two camps, for and against DRM, are similar to those who cried long and loud over the music file sharing issue. It is the users of digital content who want no DRM, and the creators of it who do.
    Please comment below if you know more about DRM that will guide us all in our decision-making...

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