Thursday, January 26, 2012

DRMs 101 : what's this DRM thing (Writers side)

My avatar is "Readers against DRM", but I realized that I don't have much factual explanations about what DRMs are, hence this post.
I'll try to be as factual as possible, so please don't FLAME, but if I make factual errors, of course feel free to correct me !

DRM stands for "Digital Rights Management". It's a way by which publishers try and control the way the books (content) is used by customers after having being bought.
What it does, is attach the book the customer receives to his account, so that copies sent to someone not having access to the account won't be readable.

Problem is : the DRMs schemes are "cracked" as soon as implemented, and once cracked become inefficient for "determined" people.

- It suffices that One person cracks a DRM method and discloses the crack for everybody knowing where to look to find the Crack (google Apprentice Alf).

- It suffices that One person have access to the Crack and an ebook to rid the ebook copy of it's DRM.

- It suffices that One person rids the copy of DRMs and puts it on the dark sides of the Net for the book to be "pirated".

Basically, against pirates, DRMs don't stand a chance.
Where they work is against "casual" copying : sending a copy to a friend (or a list of friends) or family member, making a "safety" copy...

Other than its inefficience against determined people, they have a few other drawbacks :

- It has a "hidden cost", as it needs dedicated software to be managed.

- DRMs forbid conversion to a different format, hence will disable readers not using a "format compatible" ereader to convert and read the book on their chosen software/hardware.

- Sometimes, due to software problems, legitimate customers loose access to the "protected" books they've bought.

- Sometimes, the DRM scheme depends on a service, and if that service is stopped, the customer looses his content. (

- Sometimes, the a DRM is not attached to a user account, but also to a specific hardware, and in case of hardware failure, loose access to the content.

- Some customers choose (either due to past bad experience, or to ideological reasons) to not buy DRMed books, or at least use the DRMed status when deciding to buy or pass.
And the list goes on.

Some indie authors don't know about these drawbacks or think that enforcing their copyright is worth it, and that not many customers know about DRMs or care about it. These authors choose, as is their right, to enable DRMs.

Other authors think that casual copyright infringement is benign enough or ensures visibility, or take into account some customers consider DRM as a flaw , and choose to disable DRMs.

It seems to me most indie/self-published authors have decided to not use DRMs, but again this decision seems to me completely personal or business.


  1. Given the cost of DRM-generating software (to the tune of $70,000 iirc a post by François Bon), most indie/self-published authors just can't afford it.

    BTW, cracking DRMs is much easier and faster than getting rid of a simple watermarking. So, why don't published just use some unintrusive* kind of watermarking? ;-)

    *Say, a couple of visible watermarks, and the remaining watermarks within the file's code.

    1. Regarding watermarking, I'm completely online with you, except for simplicity : if hackers wanted to get rid of watermarks, it seems quite easy to do (at least for some current ebooks watermarks scheme). However, it seems they consider Watermarks not bothering enough to get rid of them.

      As for DRM-generating software, the cost is not on the author's side, but on the retailer's (of course included in the 30% margin). "Big" retailers are able to amortize the set-up cost on the number of sold books (Amazon even has it's own internal "DRM software").