Archive for » July 30th, 2013 «

DRM, Copyright and eBooks

There’s been a lot of talk lately to do with DRM on ebooks. This mostly comes about because self-publishing authors get the choice to DRM their kindle books on amazon or not as they see fit. However, there seems to be some beffudlement as to what DRM actually is and does and how this works with the copyright of the origional works, so I thought I’d explain.

DRM

This stands for Digital rights management and is a piece of code that is attached to the kindle books (in this case) and tries to prevent anyone who’s bought the kindle file from converting to another file, moving the file and using it on another kindle, or selling it on. I’ve said tries for a very specific reason. Mostly it doesn’t work. It’s very easy to find software on the internet to strip the DRM off a file.

You might wish for DRM on a product to stop pirating and this is why it was invented. Sadly it only slows them down, and then, only by a few minutes. And it doesn’t protect the copyright. This is where some confusion comes in, but I’ll come to copyright and what it is in a few paragraphs.

Also, if say, someone who owned a nook really wanted to buy your book and put it on their ereader but you only sold through Amazon. If you had DRM enabled they wouldn’t be able to read your works. If you disabled DRM then they could convert your kindle file to the epub and put it on their nook to read. I’m sure authors wouldn’t mind this as the person has paid to get the kindle file. There are other circumstances like this where having DRM can actually hamper legitimate customers but I want to move on.

Copyright

This is the term for what protects the authors work from being sold by anyone unauthorised to sell it. This is often donated with the little © symbol or just the word copyright and then the name of whoever holds the copyright and the year the product was published. Copyright is automatic on written works. Officially and legally you own the copyright on everything you’ve written unless you legally transfer it over to somebody else. You can also retain copyright but grant related rights like publishing or movie rights to others which is what happens in most traditional publishing deals.

To defend a copyright it does help if you put the copyright notice on all work and print books tend to have a copyright page which lists all sorts of useful things, including the copyright of the current edition and the first edition if that applies. If you want to sue someone for making money off your copyrighted works and want to claim royalties they’ve earnt or anything like that, most courts in most countries require more proof of copyright. This is usually best obtained by paying your countries copyright office a small sum of money to keep your original manuscript tucked up and dated somewhere. It’s not necessary to claim the copyright unless you think you might have to go to court to claim money off someone else (which most authors would never be able to afford to do anyway) but it gives a lot of people peace of mind to have that precaution.

DRM has almost nothing to do with copyright. It’s more about the companies like amazon and apple protecting their formats for ebooks than it is about stopping people selling your work, and it sucks at both of those anyway.

So in short, my advice is to not bother with DRM. It doesn’t work and only aggravates some customers that want to use your book on multiple devices. Or families that would normally share a book or music cd from being able to do the same with an ebook.

And if you are worried about your copyright, make sure you have your copyright notice in the ebook file somewhere, and if really worried send a copy off to your copyright office as soon as the final draft is ready and get your comfirmation from them before you publish the book.