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Cory Doctorow has a column in Publishers Weekly expounding on what he calls “Doctorow’s First Law”: "Any time someone puts a lock on something that belongs to you, and won’t give you a key, they’re not doing it for your benefit."

In the column, Doctorow reiterates his experience trying to get Audible to forego restrictive licensing agreements on an audiobook of his novel Makers. They declined to allow him to add a boilerplate to the audiobook explicitly authorizing readers to make fair uses of the work, so he did not publish it through them.

This year, Doctorow approached Macmillan’s CEO John Sargent and CTO Fritz Foy and asked if they would be willing to let him try to place his e-books in some of the major e-book stores without DRM, and with a boilerplate plugging the open e-book versions available on his website. Although Doctorow offers all his books for free, DRM-free download, a number of readers would like to pay him back for the free e-books anyway.

Sargent and Foy gave their blessing, and Doctorow approached Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Sony with his conditions. Of the results, he writes:

I’m happy to report that Amazon, to its eternal credit, was delighted to offer my e-books without DRM and with the anti-EULA license language, as was Barnes & Noble and Kobo. Why Amazon’s Kindle division was happy to do what its Audible division had categorically rejected is still beyond me, but I’ll take any sign of fairness I can get. I can only hope that Amazon’s other digital divisions catch up with Kindle, and if they do, I’ll be eager to have my audiobooks for sale in the Audible store. Amazon is a retailer that has literally revolutionized my life, my go-to supplier for everything from toilet brushes to used DVDs for my toddler. And in addition to selling my own works, I also sell upwards of 25,000 books a year through Amazon affiliate links in my online book reviews. This makes me a one-man, good-sized independent bookstore, with Amazon doing my fulfillment, payment processing, stocking, etc.

Unfortunately, I had no such luck with Apple or Sony. True to my earlier experience with Apple’s iTunes store, Apple has a mandatory DRM requirement for books offered for sale for the iPad. I know many Apple fans believe that because Steve Jobs penned an open letter decrying DRM that the company must use DRM because they have no choice. But this simply isn’t true. Sony has the same deal.

Doctorow reminds readers that, thanks to the DMCA, it is illegal for even copyright holders to crack the DRM on their own books, or to authorize others to do the same.

At that point, DRM and the laws that protect it stop protecting the wishes of creators and copyright owners, and instead protect the business interests of companies whose sole creative input may be limited to assembling a skinny piece of electronics in a Chinese sweatshop.

Funny that Amazon, with its reputation for doing naughty things like pulling illegally-sold e-books off of their owners’ devices, should turn out to be one of the companies willing to forego DRM on its e-books when Apple is not. Regardless, it is great to hear that Doctorow has managed to place DRM-free e-books with three of the five major vendors.

 
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