New York Times technology columnist David Pogue has written an article for Scientific American looking at the foolishness of imposing restrictive DRM on electronic media. Calling it “our current crazy world where the honest are penalized and the pirates go free,” he points out that paying consumers have to put up with all sorts of restrictions on how they can buy and use their media, whereas those who download it illicitly can use it however they want.

The biggest problem is that all of this inconvenience is based on a gut feeling. In a world without copy protection, would the e-book, music and movie industries collapse? Instinct—or at least media company executives’ instinct—certainly says so. But without some kind of test, nobody can say for sure.

He goes on to discuss examples where piracy has helped sales of media, including his own decision, prompted by his readers, to offer a free PDF of one of his books and see how it affected sales. It turned out that even though his book was widely pirated, sales of the printed edition rose slightly year after year. (Though Pogue does not say so, my readings elsewhere suggest that this is not the usual pattern for book sales, which generally fall off over time.)

He also mentions the example of a satirical children’s book that was leaked online and went viral, and as a result soon hit the top of Amazon’s best-seller list, and points out that after launching sales on iTunes with rather restrictive DRM, the music industry is now selling its music DRM-free.

Will the movie and e-book industries learn from these examples? Probably not any time soon. But we can hope.

(Found via Techdirt.)

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TeleRead Editor Chris Meadows has been writing for us--except for a brief interruption--since 2006. Son of two librarians, he has worked on a third-party help line for Best Buy and holds degrees in computer science and communications. He clearly personifies TeleRead's motto: "For geeks who love books--and book-lovers who love gadgets." Chris lives in Indianapolis and is active in the gamer community.


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