New DRM looks to change words in e-books

DRMAfter authors spend countless hours writing, editing and writing some more to get a book finished, there are researchers looking for a way to change these words for the sake of piracy.

PaidContent wrote an article on what is being called SiDi—a fancier version of DRM—that would change minor text in a story.

Reports about the work first popped up on German blogs this week, with one blogger revealing examples that include changing wordings like “invisible” to “not visible” and “unhealthy” to “not healthy.” Other examples included sentences in which the order of words was changed, or in which hyphens were added to words.

The reason is add to a fingerprint or a signature that publishers can seemingly follow back, to see who bought that version of the book and to find out who pirated them.

A few thoughts popped into my mind when I read this article:

1. Have we really gotten to this point? Is book pirating so widespread and such an epidemic that these researchers are being paid to find another form of DRM? I don’t think we have reached that point—and I’m not really sure we would ever get to that point.

2. Are authors OK with this? Perhaps using synonyms seem OK, but if an author wanted to say ‘not healthy’ as opposed to saying ‘unhealthy,’ I’m pretty sure they would that in the first place. As a writer, I would be annoyed these little things are being changed, because we all know one word is better than two, and while the essence is the same, the flow of a sentence would slightly change. And in some cases, the actual meaning will be changed.

3. Have we stopped caring so much about the story now? It’s all about protecting the publishers. Again, this goes back to my first point. I can’t imagine we are at the point when this even seems necessary.

4. Even if this does happen and it goes widespread, people who want to pirate books will always find ways to pirate books. Always.

5. Alternatively, this is something I have seen employed in the newspaper world. In large groups of texts, such as a gate for a track meet or long lists for items, newspapers have inserted mistakes on purpose—such as an extra comma, or forgetting a period. This way they could track who was actually taking their work without attribution.

5 Comments on New DRM looks to change words in e-books

  1. Fiction authors may be offended by this, but I think the implications for non-fiction work are staggering. Consider the potential harm, not only to someone who has a pirated copy of a book, but to someone who encounters quoted material copied, pasted, and posted by someone else with a pirated text:
    1) The new DRM turns a quotation from a public figure into a scandalous comment that then goes viral.
    2) Someone is injured or suffers property loss when following instructions in a book where a crtical step has been altered by the DRM.
    3) Tabular data from economics or scientific texts are seeded with errors by the DRM.

    Let the lawsuits begin!

  2. Susan Lulgjuraj // June 19, 2013 at 1:18 pm //

    Great points Steve. I didn’t even think about how it would hit non-fiction work and you touched on some really important points.

  3. So this is a fallback scheme in the case where the regular DRM is defeated and identifying info in the eBook (name and CC #) is stripped out? Supplementary DRM, in other words.

  4. An similar effect could be achieved by adding non-printing ASCII characters to the text. Readers would never see it. Of course, programmers could remove those too, but they could also write a program to do the change words around.

    If hackers had access to two or more texts, they could compare the differences to produce a “clean” third copy.

  5. On my blog, I’ve posted something about that titled “What kind of Idiot thought changing the text was OK ?”

    The sticking point is : Watermarks already exists in many forms, none of them modifying the text as this one does. What Is the added value of this new scheme ?

    Watermarks, when done properly, is way better percieved by customers than encryption based DRMs, and will have the same effect on casual sharing. Also, with a greater acceptance, pirates are way less motivated to create removal tools. (In fact, the “biggest” removal tool supplier specifically chooses to NOT remove indentifying information in the already existing DRM locks. It only opens the locks.

    Only problem is : no big retailer DOES watermarks, despite some customers asking for them. And without retailers support, no publisher will even think about that solution.

    In some cases, where publishers DO ask for watermarks, the retailers “upgrade” to encryption based DRMs, degrading the readers’ purchased ebook.

    This new scheme has NO added value, and only discredits properly made watermarks. Such a shame.

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