Gizmodo reprints an article from Maximum PC about “seven ways to stop piracy without DRM”—aimed at computer game developers, but also mostly applicable to other media that are traditionally DRM’d, such as movies, music, or e-books. The suggestions combine the sorts of things that folks like Valve’s Gabe Newell have been saying for years with some other creative practices that game studios have been trying lately.

The suggestions include things like built-in deterrents, waiting to release games until more bugs had been worked out, giving paying customers extra content, and engaging with the community. Some of these solutions are more popular than others, of course. When you provide extra perks to people who bought new, it can come off as taking them away from people who buy used.

And in the end, the article suggests, it may not matter just what non-DRM measures (or even DRM measures) you take to reduce piracy—plenty of people will still pirate anyway. Sadly, this is the truth—even publishers who bend over backward to make their games more attractive to pay for than pirate find people will still happily rip them off.

For example, the games in the first Humble Indie Bundle could be purchased DRM-free for as little as a single penny for all of them—but a developer still estimated that as many as 25% of the games downloaded from their site were snagged via reshared links with no payment at all—and that’s not counting possible peer-to-peer or cyberlocker retransmission.

(Though oddly the same thing doesn’t seem to be true for DRM-free e-books; Baen’s DRM-free offerings are much less pirated than offerings from other publishers. Perhaps e-book readers are more loyal and principled than video gamers?)

And when that happens, developers don’t really have much recourse. As CD Projekt found, suing (alleged) pirates is a great way for game studios to tick off their customers even worse than DRM does.

The article closes:

If there’s a final, definitive solution to online piracy that doesn’t in some way involve Digital Rights Management, it has yet to be found. We can only hope that when such a solution is implemented, it’s one that’s as just to a product’s paying end users as it is to the companies that designed it.

But unfortunately, as crackable as most DRM is, DRM isn’t much of a “final, definitive solution” either. Some level piracy may just be a fact of life.


  1. RE: BAEN book piracy.
    Remember that not all “pirates” are created equal.
    Some are concerned about content availability–the scan-and-OCR crowd–and since Baen has long made their content available as multiformat ebooks at sub-paperback prices they get a measure of IP respect. Furthermore, as a genre publisher with a reputation (mostly inaccurate) for a very narrow focus, their authors have lower visibility than the NYT “bestsellers” that are the bulk of commercial ebook redistribution.
    And, nonetheless, their ebooks do get illegally redistributed; a sign that some (most?) “pirates” are simply motivated by the desire to get something for nothing.
    Faced with that particular pathology there really isn’t anything anybody can do beyond vigilance and stomping of the most eggregious profiteering enablers. (*cough*MegaUpload*cough*)

  2. As a non-DRM publisher (in fact, the only independent digital-only publisher in Australia), the use of DRM is a key point in our philosophy regarding knowledge and literature and the dissemination of it. This article brings up some excellent points as to how publishers should be learning from the mistakes of the past (i.e. the music industry) and instead putting their effort into engaging readers and creating strategies through which consumers are more likely to choose to purchase, rather than pirate. Pirates will always exist, but it is about making the purchase option easier and more attractive to entice those wavering between the two options.

    On DRM itself: Locking vendors in is contrary to the inherent nature of books – their ability to be enjoyed over and over. Ebook ownership is so conditional now, dependent on continuation of use on one device, with the possibility of removal from your possession without your permission. If I want a book-lending service, I’ll go to a library thanks (that is, if they continue to exist with Amazon’s lending scheme cannibalising all in its path). And anyway, if DRM is cracked the minute a new version appears, does that not make it redundant in this technological world?

The TeleRead community values your civil and thoughtful comments. We use a cache, so expect a delay. Problems? E-mail