So We Dropped DRM – What Does That Actually Mean?

[This post was originally posted on The Momentum Blog.]

As some of you might already know, we announced yesterday that we’re dropping DRM (digital rights management) from all of our books. The chatter on social media last night and this morning leads me to believe there’s still a bit of confusion about what DRM is, what it’s for, why we chose to drop it and what it actually means for you – assuming you are someone who might buy or want to buy our books.

What is DRM?

First of all – what is digital rights management? Basically, it’s a type of software that limits what you can and can’t do with a legitimately purchased piece of digital content. It’s used on everything from computer games to music, movies, books and television episodes. It’s the reason why when you rent a movie from iTunes you only have 48 hours to watch it, and it’s the reason why when you buy a book from Amazon you can’t copy it to your Sony or Kobo e-reader.

However, DRM is not the same thing as territorial rights. Territorial rights are to blame when you try to buy an ebook from a store and you get the dreaded ‘This book is not available from your location’ notice. It’s also what stops Australian users from using US services like Hulu, Pandora and, until recently, Spotify. Typically, content publishers buy a licence from the copyright holder that gives them the right to make that content available in particular ways within a particular geographical territory. Digital retailers of all kinds can usually work out where you’re buying or viewing content from and block you if they don’t have the right to make it available to you.

Does territorial copyright make sense on the internet? Not particularly. But ultimately it’s not just up to publishers to solve the territorial rights problem – if authors and agents want their books to be available to the world they need to make those rights available to content publishers and many still don’t.

Happily at Momentum we’ve worked extra hard to make almost all of our books available globally. In other words, our authors have licensed their books to us to sell them worldwide. This has been the case since we launched in February.

What is DRM For?

This might seem like a fairly obvious question with an obvious answer, but it’s actually kind of complicated. DRM ostensibly exists to protect a creator’s copyright – it stops readers from tampering with a file, copying it, converting it into other formats and even stops illegitimate users from opening or viewing a file. This is why publishers use it and it’s also why many authors still want it applied to their books – they are afraid that without DRM their books will be copied without limitation by anyone who gets their hands on it.

In practice, however, DRM is relatively easy to remove from a book. This is why piracy of books and other digital content is so rampant – it only takes one person with a working knowledge of how to remove DRM from a book to make it available to the entire world for free. In other words – DRM is extremely bad at doing its main job.

Given that this is so, what else is DRM for? DRM stops readers who buy their ebooks from one retailer transferring their purchase to an unapproved reading device. For example, you can’t read an ebook with DRM on it from Apple on your Kindle, and you can’t read a Kindle ebook on your Kobo Touch. So the answer to that question – what is DRM for? – becomes clear. The purpose of DRM is to encourage readers to buy their ebooks from a single source.

So Why Are We Dropping DRM?

At Momentum we have a commitment to accessibility. As I mentioned earlier, we’re working hard to make our books available globally. All of our books released so far are available for under $10, and most of them for $5 or less. Ensuring that you can buy your books from wherever you want and read them on whatever device you want is part of that commitment.

Dropping DRM is not about encouraging piracy. Piracy is a reality of the digital era, and this situation is extremely unlikely to change. Some people are always going to pirate content and spread it around without permission. Let me be clear, here – this isn’t something we support. Authors deserve to be paid for their work. But we believe that the best way to fight piracy is to remove the barriers to purchase – make books cheaper, make them available everywhere and to any reader from any platform.

What Does Dropping DRM Mean For You?

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