coyote-caughtRemember SiDiM, that supposedly novel idea for secretly watermarking a text by changing random words in order to be able to tell who leaked it? (“Novel” is right. Tom Clancy’s protagonist in The Hunt for Red October proposed something similar as a way to tell who leaked classified documents.) Cory Doctorow has his turn taking shots at it in his latest Publisher’s Weekly column. Apart from noting that it could be defeated just by comparing two or more different copies of the same text and randomizing the differences, he points out one of the biggest problems with the idea, and social DRM such as watermarking in general:

Assume that you have figured out who’s accountable for a pirated copy. Then what?

The idea that copyright owners might convince a judge, or, worse, a jury that because they found a copy of an e-book on the Pirate Bay originally sold to me they can then hold me responsible or civilly liable is almost certainly wrong, as a matter of law. At the very least, it’s a long shot and a stupid legal bet. After all, it’s not illegal to lose your computer. It’s not illegal to have it stolen or hacked. It’s not illegal to throw away your computer or your hard drive. In many places, it’s not illegal to give away your e-books, or to loan them. In some places, it’s not illegal to sell your e-books.

So at best, this new “breakthrough” DRM scheme will be ineffective. But worse, what makes anyone think this kind of implicit fear of reprisal embedded within one’s digital library is acceptable, or, for that matter, preferable to old-school DRM?

The real problem with media piracy today, Doctorow opines, is that publishers and the rest of the entertainment industry are putting much too much emphasis on stopping or punishing piracy, and not enough on convincing people to buy willingly. If they devoted all that worry to making buying more attractive instead, would piracy even be a problem anymore?

(Found via Doctorow’s post on BoingBoing.)