Fullscreen capture 972013 54201 PMPaging Rube Goldberg…

Found via BoingBoing, Arik Hesseldahl has a report at AllThingsD about an Austrian university professor who has used a Lego Mindstorm kit to hack together an e-book de-DRM scanner out of his Kindle and his laptop. Professor Peter Pergathofer built a Lego device that keys the page down button on the Kindle, then the space bar on the computer, to take a picture of one Kindle page at a time. The computer then submits the picture to a text recognition service to OCR it into a text file.

Pergathofer created the project to protest against the loss of ownership rights that come with e-books—you no longer “own” your book but simply “license” it, and digital rights management keeps it locked up so you can’t do whatever you want with it. While this process is not as efficient, nor does it produce as useful an output, as a DRM cracker such as Apprentice Alf’s, it has the advantage of not requiring illegally cracking DRM to make the copy.

I must admit, it’s a clever idea. It’s thinking along the same lines as some of the DIY paper book scanners we’ve covered before, but applying the same “analog hole” principle to an e-book. I’m not necessarily sure it would be kosher under the DMCA even if it’s not directly cracking the DRM, though. It’s still “circumventing a protection mechanism,” since the e-book does have one.

Still, it does make a point. You can’t plug the analog hole. If it’s going to work with human eyes, it will also work with something else that acts like human eyes.


  1. I can see this now. Step 1 – Buy Lego Mindstorms for $349 USD. Step 2 – tell your SO that it’s a gift for a small child, that you need to test for appropriateness, to justify the cost. To say nothing of the time this would take to scan in a bunch of books. What’s the ROI on this?

  2. While it doesn’t violate the DMCA, it still infringes the copyright.
    That said, it is an excellent example of the analog hole. As for ROI, real pirates would simply sell enough copies to justify the one time, up front investment.
    This is why I say that the primary purpose of DRM is not to prevent piracy. It is to exert greater control over markets and customers. Piracy control is just the more socially acceptable rationale.

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