HIEROGLYPHICS

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“Digital Restrictions Management should preferably be outlawed, as it is a type of fraud nullifying consumer and citizen rights, but at least, it must always be legal to circumvent.”

Pirate Party’s position on DRM, now adopted by the Green group of the European Union

So we’re clear now: Libraries are important; the internet is important, and protecting and promoting libraries on the internet is doubly important.  But online libraries still face one hurdle: DRM.  It’s not a technological hurdle.  I’m a total blonde with technology and I can de-DRM my books in about 5 seconds.  Rather, it is a legal and psychological hurdle. It scares the reader into cooperating with publishers’ ridiculous demands–like buying a book multiple times just to read it in different places or formats.  And if the reader can’t or won’t cooperate, it guilts them into believing they’re doing something wrong just to read their own books.

DRM will never allow the library to thrive online.  Not the true library anyway.

DRM should not be applied to libraries.  It should not be applied in bookstores.  It should not be applied period.

Fortunately, some people are starting to realize this, and not just the  Pirates and Greens.  The music industry, not usually that quick on the uptake, caught on years ago to the fact that fans were only driven away by DRM.   More recently, researchers from Duke and Rice Universities validated this conclusion in a study showing that removing DRM from music downloads actually increases sales.  For the most part, the industry has realized their mistake and moved away from it.

Will the publishing industry be that smart?  It doesn’t look like it.

The same trend observed in music sales is apparent in books, says Brian O’Leary, former publisher, currently a publishing consultant who conducted research on ebook sales and piracy (emphasis mine):

The publishing industry should be working as hard as we can to develop new and innovative business models that meet the needs of readers. And what those look like could be community-driven. I think of Baen Books, for example, which doesn’t put any DRM restrictions on its content but is one of the least pirated book publishers.

Too bad for us,  most book publishers aren’t catching on. 

The publishing industry seems reluctant release its stranglehold on DRM.  Most ebooks from major publishers still include restrictions that prevent readers from reading them where and how they want.  Indie authors seem to be wising up, which is great since they’re already fighting an uphill battle for readers that don’t want to take a chance on anything outside the regular presses.  The regular presses, however haven’t been so smart.  And this hurts their writers.

Let’s be clear:  DRM hurts writers.  It hurts writers because it hurts readers. 

Readers do not want to buy books that won’t actually belong to them.  Period.  And if readers aren’t buying books, that’s not good news for us.  It’s not good news for the piddly little indie-authors-to-be like this cheapass.  It’s not good news for the just-signed newbie author.  It’s not good news for the part time midlist author.  It’s not good news for the fulltime author.  And it’s not good news for the publisher.  Stephen King will probably survive.  Stephenie Meyer will be ok.  Everyone else?  Not so much.

So why do publishers cling to DRM even though it frustrates legitimate buyers, hampers sales, and provides no protection whatsoever from piracy?    

Fear of piracy runs deep in publishing, so why would they choose such an ineffective method to prevent it?  I believe the answer is a lack of understanding–a lack of understanding of the technology which is all to common in literary circles.

While the web fiction community is well-versed in the digital world, the traditional literary community seems to run chronically late when it comes to meeting the digitization of their industry.  It’s not their fault.  Not really.   For the most part, the literary community comprises a more diverse age range than, say the music community–0nline, anyway.  Go into any popular music forum and most of the people you’ll find are very young.  But go into the most popular writing forums and there’s a wide array of ages, from the starry-eyed newbie to the crotchety old folks.

This is a good thing.

The range of ages opens up a range of experience, advice and discourse.  However, many in the older generation are slower to embrace the new technology. Take a look at the older folks in writing forums struggling with whether to get a Facebook profile or wondering whether that would be “giving in” to a “phase.” Or the views on querying agents/publishers via email instead of snail mail.  (“People who are too ‘lazy’ to write a paper query letter are probably too lazy to write a good novel!”  That kind of thing.)

So you have these crotchety old folks decrying the “kids these days” with their eyes glued to the computer screen, never picking up a paper book.  And then you have the newbies who, wanting to impress the crotchety old folks, jump in with “Oh, yeah, yeah I totally hate those kids.  I don’t even use Facebook…”  This doesn’t exactly help to foster an understanding of the changing technology.

It’s 2011.  You’d think people would be just a wee bit more comfortable with the tech by now.  However, the lack of understanding of the technology continues to be painfully apparent in author’s responses to piracy.  Like authors who think that removing a torrent file will make the illegal copies of their book disappear.   Or that removing DRM is like taking hieroglyphics out of the Rosetta Stone.  Or that thorough copyright enforcement and privacy rights are not mutually exclusive.

The result of this primitive grasp of technology is restrictive, ineffective comfort blankets like DRM.  And despite having the evidence of the music industry, independent researchers, and studies from within their own industry, they still do not understand that they would be beter without it.

The Green group’s adoption of an anti-DRM stance brings hope.  They are the fifth largest group in the European parliament.  That may not sound impressive for those of us used to a system where any group without an absolute majority gets no representation at all, but it is significant.  Consider that, though this stance is held by a minority, that minority actually has representation.   If the publishers aren’t smart enough to abandon DRM themselves, despite continued harm to their consumer, their writers and their business, perhaps legislative intervention is the only option.

I would rather see publishers and writers realize that DRM is harmful to them and their readers and chose to abandon it on their own.  But if we need to get political to save our books, then so be it.

So are the Greens going to have to save our asses?  Or can we do it ourselves?

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