It was a couple of years ago, in 1999. It was largely centered around Amazon’s remote deletion of an (illegal1) Kindle version of Orwell’s 1984. While the lawsuit was settled and Amazon said they’d never, ever do it again (unless they really had to, of course), it left one big question in the air.
Why does Amazon have this ability at all?
Before I get accused of (once again) being an Amazon-basher, I’d be willing to bet that any eReader that connects wirelessly to its home store has the same capability. Amazon seems to just trip over this stuff more frequently than other places.
For example, this perfect demonstration as to what happens when the same company holds the access to all your purchased digital content. tl;dr: When a woman lost access to her Amazon account, she was unable to access all of the Kindle books she’d bought because they were either on a (broken) hardware device or required access to the same account she was locked out of.
With your word-processing documents, your photos, and so on, you can back your data up. But that’s not the case with stuff that’s encrypted with DRM, or digital rights management. If you can manage to find the file, it’s still locked with an encryption key that the consumer is never given.
Or consider Rupert Goodwin’s story, where DRM ended up making his files impossible to use… because he’s visually impaired. His ability to access the file (and make it so that he was able to read the book he bought) was hampered so much that he eventually found out how to break the DRM so that he could simply use the thing he’d already paid money for. (Hint: search for “I heart cabbages”.)
What if you have different eReader brands in the house? Good luck with that. While converting a file from ePub to Kindle formats is actually very, very easy… it’s only possible when the file isn’t locked with DRM.
It’s not hard, especially with the ReDigi case coming up, to imagine that DRM is going to be used as evidence that the first-sale doctrine can never apply to anything wrapped in DRM. Obviously, that content is licensed, even if the EULA is found to not apply, because you can’t get to the file itself.
The first-sale doctrine “…enables the distribution chain of copyrighted products,
library lending, gifting, video rentals and secondary markets for
copyrighted works (for example, enabling individuals to sell their
legally purchased books or CDs to others).”
Notice two things in particular there: library lending and gifting. We’ve already seen publishers try to shake down libraries to buy extra copies of digital books. If first-sale doesn’t apply to digital media, then you can’t even give away the content you’ve already bought. Ever. They have to buy their own copy, even if you’re never going to use yours again.
What DRM does effectively is reinforce the concept that you don’t own the stuff you paid money for. It’s little more than a way to milk money out of those people who actually are honest enough to pay for the work… and force them to buy more copies than they would otherwise.
Alliteration Ink provides files DRM-free. Period.
I am not going to punish the people who pay money to buy our books and support the authors and artists who work with me.
I’ve been encouraging my father to buy a tablet or eReader for a while. His eyes are going a bit wonky, and he needs larger type. And I’m not going to force him to buy any particular brand – if it can handle ePub or Kindle files, then he can read the books his son publishes.
I might lose a few bucks here and there when someone pirates a book instead of paying for it.
But if that means that even one person like my father is able to enjoy these books when they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to, it’s totally worth it.
1 Despite some people asserting the illegality was the most important aspect of the case, they were, and still are, wrong.