“Lending” e-books is a DRM scam: More control for publishers means less freedom for readers

The Wall Street Journal reports that Amazon.com is starting a digital book lending service; readers will be able to download a copy of a book and keep it on their reading device for as long as they want before “returning” it (which really means making it unavailable to the reading device, and thus the reader) by “borrowing” another book. How could this possibly hurt you?

  • You lose rights compared to physical books—a physical book may be read at any time in any place, lent again and again. E-books with DRM (digital restrictions management, also called “digital rights management” by those using the publisher’s propaganda) are under someone else’s control (publisher, reseller, etc.). No matter where the control originates it is not you, the reader. Amazon.com demonstrated this quite effectively in 2009 when Amazon took back legally obtained copies of George Orwell’s “1984” and “Animal Farm” from Amazon Kindle readers. While this is certainly good enough reason to never do business with amazon.com, it’s also good enough reason to never deal with DRM-restricted media.
  • You lose publishing and reading opportunities at the whim of a monopolist—businesses frequently change their terms of acceptable behavior. Today one thing is acceptable and tomorrow that same behavior is objectionable. In 2010 amazon.com’s change in behavior meant that Selena Kitt’s erotic novels went from being publishable to no longer published so for her readers, Kitt’s novels became less available and when would-be customers inquired about the missing novels they were chastised about their reading choices. You should not let others choose what you are allowed to read and you should not have to run an acceptability gauntlet to read what you want. When you take on DRM-encumbered works, only the DRM publisher can set that work as free as its non-DRM equivalent, hence the DRM publisher becomes a monopoly for anyone seeking to do business with publishers/resellers yet not suffer the ill effects of DRM.
  • You could be monitored by the reading device—a device that has as little as a GPS unit and a wireless network device could easily figure out where you are and report your coordinates plus information on what you’re doing via the network to someone else (say, a publisher or reseller). That is enough to effectively track your movements and convey some sense of what is on your e-book reader. By contrast, paper books have no inherent means to report information back to anyone else.
  • DRM only works with proprietary software—if users had the freedom to share and modify DRM software, some users could easily delete the privacy-busting code and keep the privacy-respecting code, then share the upgraded software with everyone else. Proprietary software doesn’t respect your freedom to share and modify, so DRM is a virtual guarantee that you’re working with software you cannot trust to do only what you want. Since you don’t need computers or software to read a book, you shouldn’t use proprietary software.
  • Commercial substitutes for libraries do you no good—if “borrowing” books from commercial interests in this way becomes seen as normal, there will be greater ground to ignore benefits from the local public library system. Public libraries, subsidized by taxes, often buy many copies of books and lend them to patrons (thus putting to rest the notion that DRM is a publisher’s way of making more money; DRM is often about the control publishers/resellers can impose on readers). Our libraries can be run locally by local citizens for collective benefit and libraries treat their patrons with respect, in part by destroying lending records after patrons return borrowed items. None of this need be the case for businesses. Profit-seeking businesses will run their organizations anywhere in the world hiring the cheapest labor available which leads to exploitation and abuse. Records of who copied which book will not be deleted. These records will be leaked long after a customer has finished dealing with them, needlessly bringing disastrously embarrassing results for those who do business with them. Public libraries shouldn’t do business with e-book vendors lest they become a bulwark for privacy-busting themselves.

Related Links

  • The Right to Read—Richard Stallman’s famous dystopic short story on where we’re headed with DRM.
  • Defective by Design—learn more about digital restrictions in a variety of devices and take direct political action.