Major Bookseller Bids Adieu to Digital Copyright Protection

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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Image credit: Apple


Josha N.
Josha N5 years ago

Finally! Even though I'm pretty capable with computers, the DRM system has always stumped me and keeps me from buying new books for my e-reader. I'm always so afraid I won't be able to figure out how to authorize my computer for the digital books before the time runs out that you can download your bought version. That would be such a waste of money. I hope the other publishers will follow suit, then I'll finally be able to download as much books as I want! I would happily pay for that!

Deborah D.
Deborah D5 years ago

To the non-tech, hidebound bean counters who could not comprehend how to survive financially without imposing a digital iron fist, DRM seemed like a decent option.

It quickly became so cumbersome that many avoided proprietary & DRM protected digital formats like the plague.

The only e-books I have been obtaining are really old books (Edgar Rice Boroughs and other classics) available at no charge since they are out of copyright.

This is encouraging...but I wish I did not have to pay full price for a second (digital) copy of a book I already own.

Betty S.
Betty S.5 years ago

DRM was a stupid idea from the beginning. Being able to share books, records, etc., never had an impact on sales of media before the digital age. Individuals with brains realize they have to support, with money, the artists they enjoy. I have bought more music, books, movies, etc., since digital versions came out than I ever did of pre-digital media. Right now, one of my friends wants me to try a new author she has found. She is lending me her Kindle copy of the first book in the series. I, in turn, introduced her to the Millennium series and the Hunger Games Trilogy. She ended up buying both series just as I will probably buy the series she has found so enjoyable. Getting rid of DRM on books will make it even easier for us to introduce each other to new author plus being able to share with other who don't have the same readers we do.

Andrew Carvin
Andrew Carvin5 years ago

DRM protected = will not buy

I don't want DRM junk breaking my stuff.

So hats off for them realizing that having DRM will chase away many legitimate buyers.

Muriel C.
Muriel C5 years ago

Sure. One of the reasons I'm still lugging around my 980 books every time I move, is that I have stopped reading digitally until I no longer have to re-purchase the "book" every time I want to change support.

Brenda Towers
Brenda Towers5 years ago

Thanks for sharing.

Bill Eagle
Bill Eagle5 years ago

DRM has been abused, and I am pleased to see a company that will no longer used it. DRM does not help business, and killing DRM is good for business and certainly for authors who want their works read.

Joan Mcallister
5 years ago

With you on that Holly I still like the feel of a real book in my hands.

Alan Lambert
Alan Lambert5 years ago

Well done...

Steve A.
Steve A5 years ago


I hope you've all paid your artist rights fees for singing "Happy Birthday to you" to the kids this year.

They'll be coming for you if you haven't.