When DRM on ebooks works like a bewitched, terribly broken bookshelf


Personally, I believe that copyright has a reason to exist (1) and that copying and sharing online 247 every file you can lay your hands on, “just because I can”, makes it easier to pass things like ACTA and therefore is

a stupid, counterproductive habit. This doesn’t mean that I like the current copyright system. I am convinced that copyright must be reformed and that, even before that, its duration must be heavily reduced. And I am also convinced that many of the current attempts from traditional publishers to move both copyright and books from paper to bits are just dumb.

This is why I volunteered to help with the translation of an official communication of the Civic Library of Cologno Monzese, a small Italian city near Milan. The announce, whose full text is also readable below, deserves to be known outside Italy, and the library deserves your congratulations (2), because it explains wonderfully what’s wrong with certain “strategies” (3). If ebooks will fail it’s because of things like those denounced by the Cologno Monzese Library, not because of the dumb reasons presented by some Italian intellectuals.

The Cologno Monzese Library will not buy Adobe DRM protected ebooks

Our Library is engaged in an ebook lending project supported by Lombardy Region, called Books eBooks. We bought 41 ebook readers of several brands on which we are loading assorted ebooks. Through BookRepublic, an Italian ebook online store, we’ve reached an agreement with several small and medium publishers that sell their ebooks with a protection system called “social DRM” o watermarking.

So far, however, we haven’t been able to reach any agreement with publishers that protect their books with the Adobe DRM system. We even got no answer to some simple technical questions that we asked Adobe Italia and other online libraries, for instance:

  • would it be possible for a library, after getting approval directly from the publishers, to increase the number of devices on which the ebooks can be transferred?
  • how can we legally convert to the ePub or MOBI format an Adobe DRM protected PDF file?

In such a situation it is clear that we cannot buy ebooks with this kind of DRM protection. If we did, we would spend money without being able to make the ebooks that we buy available to our subscribers on our ebook readers!

  • Protecting ebooks with the Adobe DRM system can’t be an effective deterrent against piracy and at the same time it makes impossible, for libraries and also for individual users to legally convert and transfer legally bought files on other devices.
  • By limiting the number of authorized devices (six, according to Adobe (3)), the Adobe DRM protection doesn’t encourage publishers to propose favourable agreements to libraries, whose result would be to increase the demand of ebooks and ebook readers, that is to support the market.
  • Consequently, the Adobe DRM protection is equivalent to a digital lock that forbids legitimate lending of books and hinders the development of digital public libraries.

Until these conditions won’t change, our library will not buy Adobe DRM protected ebooks and will allocate its budget to buy works from other publishers which use less invasive systems, works in the public domain and works released under Creative Commons licenses.

COLOGNO MONZESE LIBRARY (Milan, Italy), 25 novembre 2010

Isn’t this library great? Here are some of my own (Marco) notes an comments:

  1. I will explain why I believe that copyright has a reason to exist in more detail some other time; until that day you can read some dangerous copyright myths or even the terms of use of this website to have an idea of why I think so.
  2. if you want more informations about the ebook program of the Cologno Monzese Civic Library or just want to tell them “Grazie, ben Fatto!” (Thank you, well Done!) their email address is chiediloanoi -at- comune.colognomonzese.mi.it)
  3. more exactly: six is the maximum number of devices that can be authorized without (cfr the Adobe FAQ “contacting (Adobe) Customer Service to increase your allowable activations”, that is without getting permission from Adobe itself.

Personally, I find point 3 above to be the funniest (so to speak) part: even if and when both the library and the copyright holder (the author or her publisher) agree on loading an ebook on many devices, they must ask for permission, or at least for help, from… the guys who made the software container of the ebook. Which makes just as much sense as the library buying as many copies of some paper book as they want, putting them on some IKEA bookshelf, and by this mere act finding itself forced to ask IKEA authorization or help to lend more than six of those books at the same time… That’s even worst than Harry Potter’s Vanishing Cabinet!

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