When Tor, the Sci-Fi arm of the Macmillan USA Empire, announced that they were dropping Digital Rights Management technology from their e-Book collection, it opened up a digital publishing rights can of worms commonly referred to as ownership vs. access. For those unfamiliar with DRM tech, it’s essentially access control technology that prevents digital content – in this case e-Book downloads – from being used in a way the original publisher doesn’t permit. Generally, this includes all legal issues related to copyright – making illegal copies, illegally reselling and redistributing content, among others.
Publishers vs. Consumers: Nobody Wins
On the publisher’s end of things, DRM tech is controversial because it’s aimed fighting off copyright infringers. On the consumer end it’s controversial because it’s aimed at fighting off copyright infringers. Publishers don’t think they should have to suffer revenue loss from illegal piracy and content consumption. On the flip side, legitimate e-Book downloaders are perpetually annoyed at having to suffer the inconvenience that DRM tech provides, as it’s meant for shady content pirates. What’s the inconvenience? Well, the big rub is that DRM-protected content cannot be transferred between e-Readers. If you bought DRM-protected e-Books and want to transfer content from a Kindle to a Nook, you would have to either re-purchase the books, or break the DRM protection.
The Awful Truth: DRM Tech is Virtually Useless
According to many analysts, DRM isn’t doing much to fight off copyright infringement. The reality is that data pirates will always find a way to illegally download content. DRM-protected devices and content aren’t necessarily embedded with high-level security code. With this in mind, one has to wonder if DRM is just a passing fad or if further development will reduce copyright infringement instances.
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Ownership and Access
The reality of today’s digital content is that no matter how badly publishing company’s want to stick to an old revenue model, it simply doesn’t work anymore. Many lawsuits have been lost in an effort to keep a sinking ship afloat. The big fear is that DRM-free publishing will expand quickly and even bleed over into the film and music industries. This is where things start to get hairy. Access-driven music distribution companies like Spotify, Rdio and Grooveshark have recently fallen under criticism for the low rates they pay performers. The access model is great for consumers but potentially bad artists and publishers.
Where the Rubber Meets the Road: Necessity and Innovation
When an industry is pushed up against the financial wall, they can either innovate or die. The reality is that e-Book publishers and music distributors deliver valuable content, and consumers want to have unlimited access to content that they pay for. At this point, it’s difficult to predict what innovation will look like in the digital content industry, but at the very least, publishers need to stop punishing honest content consumers with rigid access protection technology. Hopefully, the looming death of DRM technology will serve as a powerful wake-up call for those in the digital publishing industry. For publishers, it’s high time for sustainable innovation.