Publishing house Tom Doherty Associates, responsible for all of Pan Macmillan’s science fiction and fantasy publishing imprints (including Tor, Orb and Forge) has announced that it will be offering its electronic books for sale in DRM-free copies. Tom Doherty Associates’ entire book catalogue is expected to be available in DRM-free versions by July of this year.
DRM, which stands for Digital Rights Management, refers to electronic programs embedded into electronic files that limit the ability of the user to copy or share them. DRM technology has been used in the digital music, movie, gaming and publishing industries for years. However, it’s been a headache for legitimate users just as long, which the press release acknowledges:
“Our authors and readers have been asking for this for a long time,” said president and publisher Tom Doherty. “They’re a technically sophisticated bunch, and DRM is a constant annoyance to them. It prevents them from using legitimately-purchased e-books in perfectly legal ways, like moving them from one kind of e-reader to another.”
Meanwhile, persistent piraters have always been able to find cracked copies. Stories of legitimate purchasers cracking or pirating versions of media they’ve already paid for have been bandied about for years. The solution according to some inflexible thinkers has been bigger and better copyright protection, which too frequently crosses over into the squelching of personal privacy and civil rights. On the whole, such heavy-handed tactics have not been effective.
Despite this, it’s still rather surprising to see even a subsidiary of a major company like Pan Macmillan put their money where their mouth is. The idea that book lovers are happy to pay a fair price for good stories is strongly-advocated by anti-DRMers. And proof of concept of some version of the honor system when it comes to digital copyright infringement has already been demonstrated. The music industry grew, rather than shrivelled, as file-sharing programs came to the fore. Cory Doctorow has been releasing his written works under a Creative Commons license for years, trusting his fans to read and share and, ultimately, pay him for his efforts.
In a similar way, Tom Doherty Associates is now trusting its fans to purchase, enjoy and perhaps share their digital books with friends. But they are also trusting those friends, in turn, to properly purchase those shared copies, at least if they find they enjoy them, and this is the gutsy step other major companies have thus far failed to take.
That this kind of self-policing seems, by and large, to actually work, is critical in making this DRM-free decision seem like an acceptable risk. Even more relevant, though, is that DRM doesn’t work. Since DRM doesn’t actually prevent piracy, there’s no profit in irritating the actual consumers who support the industry with reduced functionality.
In fact, this may turn out to be a very shrewd business move. What dedicated digital reader wouldn’t choose to buy books from publishers providing easy-to-use copies rather than the malware-laden versions DRM files have become? Will competitors quickly be following suit, lest they be left behind by web-savvy individuals who don’t want to suffer every time they transfer a file to a new device? One can hope.
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