bill-mccoyYou already know how TeleRead stands on DRM. The best is none. But short of that, we’re keen on social DRM as a compromise—a way for individual copies to be identified to discourage piracy.

Now Firebrand Technologies is offering social DRM as an option for publishers sending out review copies to librarians, journalists and others by way of Firebrand’s NetGalley service. Congrats to all involved. None other than Bill McCoy, now executive director of the International Digital Publishing Forum, was talking up social DRM while at Adobe. Too bad the people there were too set in their ways to follow up.

Unlike the usual encryption-based DRM, social DRM need not get in the way of books being read on a variety of platforms. And you can access socially DRMed books forever without relying on the continued survival or goodwill of the people who sold you the books.

Let’s hope that Firebrand can find a market for social DRM far beyond the present use. If I were B&N, I’d jump on this one as an alternative for publishers. Um, don’t told your breath—stubborn dinos that the B&N people can so often be, especially in their eagerness to lock in customers. Come on, B&N. Prove me wrong. Please. If you really really want to save your e-book operation, this could help.

Related: Publishers can ‘compete with’ Amazon…but should they?, by TeleRead Chris Meadows, who among other things mentions the no-brainer of dropping DRM.  As for the IDPF, these days the focus on “lightweight” DRM by way of the related Readium Foundation (cached page—the current site is being revamped). No! Let’s ditch traditional DRM entirely, and if publishers want something, let it be social DRM.

(Via Nate.)


  1. @Frank: Thanks. One challenge from a consumer perspective in favor of social DRM is that certain publishers want the anti-circumvention restrictions to apply.

    The linked document says: “…a lightweight DRM should be a technology that clearly enjoys protection under anticircumvention law. Technologies such as ‘watermarking’ (inserting data about the user, retailer, and/or content into the file) do not qualify. If a technology is protected under anticircumvention law, then it’s illegal to distribute or use cracking tools for that technology. To be very clear on this point: we expect that a lightweight DRM (in reality, any DRM) will be cracked, and we are relying on anticircumvention law for some level of crack protection.’

    Foolish thinking! Piracy can be dealt with legally in other ways. It’s high time for the industry to care more about consumer satisfaction and sales revenue and less about new forms of legal warfare against book buyers. We’re seeing the same mindset at work here as in the case of e-book gouges. Publishers forget that books are competing against other media is entertainment. The rise of affordable first-rate entertainment from services like Netflix just aggravates the problem.

    As for the example you gave of a consumer claiming deletion, because of resell or whatever, I think provisions could be in place to allow for social to your room to adjust. Perhaps it could happen through some kind of registry.


  2. It is incorrect to describe the IDPF’s effort as “light DRM”. It was encryption DRM, and thus was not “light”.

    Also, that effort has died. It was developed under the misguided belief that Adobe would be getting out of ebooks. Since that never happened, the IDPF project was mooted into its demise.

  3. @Nate: I suspect you’ll continue to disagree with me, but for what it’s worth, social DRM is really not DRM in the technical sense. We’re talking about tracking, as opposed to control of access. As for the IDDF’s “light DRM,” it is indeed traditional DRM. You are right to question the term “light” even if it is less onerous than some DRM schemes.

    At any rate, whatever the term, social DRM, watermarking, you name it, I hope that the IDPF will wise up and position this as a serious alternative to traditional DRM.

    The book business needs to worry more about revenue and less about keeping control freak lawyers happy. While trad DRM can be useful in terms of book rentals and library use of certain kinds of items, it has absolutely no place in traditional book sales.

    It is an assault on fair use and on consumer rights in general.

    Watermarking is not perfect, but it’s a long way from that obnoxiousness of traditional DRM.


  4. Enthrill’s patent-pending PackaDRM solution offers elements of watermarking and social DRM and is completely device agnostic… it’s what is behind the Walmart ebook program in Canada with many publishers having already accepted this form of copyright protection. I believe you will see this technology, be it through ours or others, help to proliferate the distribution and sales of ebooks in the coming year. Trade ebook sales through the existing channels is limited in it’s scope and has few possibilities for growth – its reached critical mass and now publishers are reduced to lowering prices to maintain their share of dollars. Alternate sales channels care needed and can only be had through technologies like Social DRM. Most of the solutions to create alternate channels rely on Apps – these sequester content away from where the reader has already chosen to read and only work on tablets – missing the entire e-ink market, you know, the very devices designed to read on… Apps are a partial market solution that publishers will soon realize lacks content engagement and only services the segment of the market that is not dedicated to reading. Mass adoption of social DRM or a form thereof is inevitable.

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