Digital Rights Management (DRM) is a term that refers to a set of control technology approaches that restrict unauthorized access and use of proprietary hardware and copyrighted works in digital media. While the applications are endless, the DRM controls are more popular with eBook writers and independent publishers, as they try to prevent customers from copying, modifying, and redistributing the work they’ve purchased.
How does DRM work?
Publishers use certain applications which encrypt content and make it viewable only to people with the correct decryption key or a dedicated ’Reader’ application often downloaded. A licensing system is used to transparently transmit the decryption keys to the ‘Reader’ app. Normally, the keys are locked to only authorized devices.
The ‘Reader’ application checks for the correct decryption key to load the content with the DRM protections applied. If this app does not have the correct keys, it confirms with the licensing system to ascertain whether the reader can access the protected content.
eBook authors can choose the type of DRM controls to apply depending on the work published, audience, and distribution to readers. It could be preventing printing, screen grabbing, document expiry, or watermarking documents with unique user information to establish identity.
Should eBook authors use DRM?
Here are some arguments for and against using DRM as an eBook author:
Arguments in favor of DRM:
- Protection against piracy: DRM can deter casual piracy and unauthorized sharing of eBooks, which may help protect the author’s revenue stream and intellectual property.
- Publisher/Agent requirements: Some publishers or literary agents might require DRM as part of their standard practices to protect their investments and intellectual property.
Arguments against DRM:
- Customer inconvenience: DRM can restrict users from easily accessing their purchased content on multiple devices or platforms. Customers may find it frustrating to deal with limitations and compatibility issues.
- Interferes with legitimate use: DRM can sometimes be overly restrictive, preventing legitimate uses such as fair use, sharing within a household, or using assistive technologies for people with disabilities.
- False sense of security: DRM is not foolproof, and determined pirates can often find ways to bypass it. It may create a false sense of security for authors while not entirely preventing piracy.
- Negative impact on sales: Some argue that DRM can lead to decreased sales, as customers may prefer DRM-free eBooks due to the freedom to use them as they wish.
A middle-ground approach involves considering DRM alternatives or using a “light” version of DRM. For example, watermarking the eBook with the buyer’s information can help trace the source of unauthorized copies without overly restricting legitimate use. Ultimately, the decision to use DRM should be based on the author’s priorities and the market they are targeting. Some authors and publishers opt for DRM, especially when contractually obligated or concerned about piracy. Others prefer to offer DRM-free eBooks to provide a more customer-friendly experience and build goodwill among readers. It’s essential to weigh the pros and cons carefully and understand that DRM is just one aspect of a broader eBook distribution and marketing strategy. Building a loyal readership, offering excellent content, and engaging with your audience can also promote your work.