Note: This letter will be printed out and mailed to Random House as soon as I am satisfied with it (and can find out to whom it should be directed). Any suggestions for improvement will be appreciated.
Random House Inc.
New York, NY 10019-4305
Dear Random House Customer Service:
Provoked by Packaging
I am writing to express my extreme displeasure with one of your products: The Last Theorem by Arthur C. Clarke and Frederik Pohl, which I recently purchased as a Fictionwise e-book. I am not upset with the content of the book, as I have not yet read it. I am upset with its packaging.
Under United States law, as set forth by legal code and court decisions, I should have the right to make full fair use of the book. This includes “space-shifting” it to read on any computer or other device that I own (as per RIAA vs. Diamond Multimedia, which held that “space-shifting” a work is fair use). However, your use of digital rights management (DRM), by releasing the book in Secure Mobipocket format, prevents me from doing this.
Although Fictionwise allows readers to register up to four different Mobipocket clients on which an ebook can be read, there is no official Mobipocket client for either my Nokia 770 Internet tablet or my Ubuntu Linux laptop. There is FBReader, but it will only read unencrypted Mobipocket files. Therefore, if I wanted to read your book on those devices—which is, again, a perfectly legal fair use of your work—I would have to break another law: the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
Although I have no interest in violating the copyright of the book by putting it on peer-to-peer networks or Web sites—I feel that authors deserve to be paid for their work—the mere act of using the book in ways that should be legal would require me to violate the DMCA. (Actually, it is arguable whether it even would be a DMCA violation, under the “interoperability” clause that permits reverse-engineering encryption to make two computer programs work together—but since that clause has not yet been argued in court in a context that would relate to ebooks, and I am not a lawyer in any event, I would be hesitant to stake my legal well-being upon it.)
I was so upset by the DRM restriction that I almost did not buy the book at all. If it had not been on sale at Fictionwise in a promotion that made it essentially free, I would certainly not have done so. That is how much the DRM decreased the value of your book for me—by the entire amount of its purchase price. Even then, I was ambivalent about my purchase because even if I got it “free,” you would still be given some money to support your use of DRM.
DRM is Pointless
Your decision to cripple The Last Theorem with digital rights management is worse than annoying; it is downright pointless—for two reasons.
First, the encryption can easily be broken. In fact, decryptors for all three major encrypted ebook formats—Secure Mobipocket, eReader, and Microsoft Reader—can be located in under five minutes on Google. Thanks to the global nature of the Internet, you could never eradicate those cracks if you tried; there are many nations that do not have laws against removing DRM.
Those who scoff at the DMCA, or do not have such a law in their country, will think nothing of cracking the encryption and using your books however they want to. To some, the mere fact that you put DRM on it will serve as a goad to make it available on peer-to-peer out of spite when they would otherwise not have done so.
Second, even if the encryption on your ebooks was perfect and unbreakable, it still would not matter. You cannot protect ink and paper. If someone really wants to post your book on the Internet, they will get a copy of the hardcover, a bandsaw, and a sheet-feeding scanner, and your book will be making its way through the peer-to-peer networks within hours. J.K. Rowling and her publishing companies discovered this for themselves when they adamantly refused to release any Harry Potter ebooks due to piracy concerns, yet complete copies of each Harry Potter book were nonetheless circulating on the Internet within hours of its release.
Thus, your decision to lock The Last Theorem (and any other ebooks you publish) is highly counterproductive: it only inconveniences and irritates law-abiding customers. The less law-abiding will just crack it or download a copy from peer-to-peer—or might even skip buying it altogether in favor of an illicit download.
Consider Baen Books, which has been selling its books through Webscriptions and even giving them away free for years now, with no digital rights management. Not only have they sold more paper books this way, but they have built up a devoted following of readers. And hardly any of their non-free books can be found circulating illicitly, even though there is no DRM to be cracked. Because Baen respects its customers, its customers respect it in return.
Now Tor is starting to follow Baen’s example, recently giving away two dozen ebooks free and unDRMed as a promotion, and gearing up to sell unDRMed books through Baen’s Webscriptions program. Cory Doctorow has given away, without DRM, an ebook of every novel he has ever written and has sold large numbers of his books as a result.
Many of the books Fictionwise sells are in unencrypted formats—they only apply encryption when publishers (such as Random House) specifically request it. They certainly seem in no danger of going out of business—in fact, they recently bought one of their oldest competitors, eReader.
By locking your books with digital rights management, you are only hurting your own business and annoying your customers for no actual gain. Your DRM provides no useful protection, so you might as well release your books without it and stop treating your customers as potential thieves. Quite apart from the uselessness of digital rights management, it is also rather insulting.
Trust begets trust. If you unlock your books, you will also broaden your market.
Christopher E. Meadows