The Don’ts of DRM

Digital Rights Management (DRM) is an ‘electronic lock’ that is meant to ensure that ebook files, and other digital content, are secured from theft and can only be opened and accessed by those people who have purchased them. It’s also meant to prevent copying.

There are two simple ‘don’ts’ for indie authors when thinking about DRM:

  • don’t consider using it, and
  • don’t worry about what will happen to your files if they don’t have DRM.

Here’s why.

DRM is universally reviled by consumers (and many publishers) for a number of very good reasons. If you buy a file from a vendor who has applied DRM and the vendor goes out of business, it’s likely that you will be unable to access the file you legally purchased. And even if that doesn’t happen, the DRM lock means it’s difficult to view your file on a device other than the one you purchased it for. So, for example, you can’t view a file you bought for your iPad on your Kindle unless there’s additional software designed for that purpose, which you have to then download and install.

It’s also true that DRM is entirely ineffective in actually securing files. DRM can be quickly and easily stripped from a file by anyone who has a spare half hour and access to Google.

So all DRM does is inconvenience and frustrate legitimate buyers while failing to deter potential thieves. As a result many publishers, even international publishers like Pan MacMillan, are now issuing ebooks without DRM.

While ebook piracy does exist, the best defence for indie authors is to have a product that is easily available — e.g. on as many ebook platforms as possible — and reasonably priced. That way, the vast majority of buyers will be happy to purchase a legitimate copy of your ebook.

For more conversations about DRM see:

https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2009/04/doctorows-law

http://www.defectivebydesign.org/what_is_drm_digital_restrictions_management