on Jun 24, 2009
There is a post on Gear Diary tiled, Kindle’s DRM Rears Its Ugly Head… And It IS Ugly.
Oh? Did you buy a nice new thing? And you thought you owned it? And then it suddenly went all gone? Oopsie.
I was reading my dog-eared, broken-spine, semi-loose-leaf copy of Fellowship of the Ring the other day. It is now spontaneously balkanizing itself into smaller volumes with each reading, and it will not be long before it is less a book and more a stack of crumpled wood pulp. I am not a book collector. I am a book reader. I have no use for a shelf of pristine volumes, snug in their dust jackets, crisp pages forever facing one another. I buy books for the same reason I buy a package of cheese: I want to assimilate the stuff inside. Step one is slipping off the dust jacket and placing it somewhere irresponsible where it will be lost, buried, or ruined. Step two is leaving the thing face down on the floor beside my bed, which not only holds my pages but also breaks the spine so the thing won’t play hard to get while I’m trying to read. Step three is keeping it close at hand, even if that means keeping it near food and coffee.
As a natural byproduct of this entropy and apathy, I’m going to have to buy Lord of the Rings again. I’m okay with this. I used up my copies in the physical sense of wearing them out through use. It would not be okay if (say) the book suddenly disintegrated and required replacement because I’d moved the volume to a new shelf three times.
How it works on the Kindle right now:
You buy a book. Most of them have download restrictions, which is the maximum number of times the title can be “downloaded”. I don’t know if “download” in this context means re-downloaded from the source, or change devices. It does not tell you this up front. You have to read the fine print. I realize you should “always” read the fine print (because of course, the human life is an infinite thing and we all have limitless capacity for inspecting the legalese attached to mundane transactions for signs of treachery) but perhaps we could forgive book buyers for not checking to make sure their books won’t spontaneously stop existing at some point for no good reason. Buying a book is a well understood transaction, and when people heard “electronic book”, they no doubt thought it meant “a book, in electronic form”, not “a limited single-user license to access a given set of data for a limited time until some perfectly arbitrary bullshit takes place and the license is revoked or expires”.
What makes this system even more fun is the fact that different books have different thresholds and rules, and those are not always disclosed at sales time. (I’m getting all of this from the article linked above. I don’t own a Kindle for the same reason I don’t own Spore. (And to be fair, nobody owns a copy of Spore.) And also because I’m not made of money.) The icing on the cake is that when your license stops giving you permission to read the book you thought you owned, you get a vague failure message that makes it sound like a simple tech problem, thus leading you to waste time trying to “fix” the problem without realizing the device is working exactly according to specifications: It’s screwing you.
Sadly, this will bring out a fresh batch of clueless rubes who are in favor of “hard” DRM, and who will need to be taught – like so many video gamers before them – that DRM would need to violate information theory in order to work, and the only thing it accomplishes is the harassment of honest customers.
Sorry to hear it Kindle-lovers. If it’s of any comfort, DRM music lasted for about five years before they gave up on it (iTunes notwithstanding) and PC games DRM is gradually following suit. If you wait five years or so, the book publishers might be tired of the support headaches, the customer complaints, the bad press, the licensing expense (DRM ain’t free) and the fact that it doesn’t impede pirates in any way. Perhaps by that point they will have begun the process of starting to deliberate on the possibility that maybe they should try not using DRM on some books, and see how that works out.
Shamus Young is an old-school OpenGL programmer, author, and composer. He runs this site and if anything is broken you should probably blame him.