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Social DRM, the Death of Copyright and the Fallacy of Piracy

There is some really great debate over on the TeleRead Blog concerning DRM, copyright, and piracy. As the TeleRead blog has grown, David has added new columnists (disclaimer: including Wiley publisher Joe Wikert) which has really added to the conversation.

David Rothman agrees with Adobe’s Bill McCoy on the use of Social DRM, but also understands the challenges of implementing such a system.

How expensive would it be to run a social DRM system on a mass scale? More or less costly than the current crop of traditional encryption-based systems? Could expenses be reduced by avoiding the use of encrypted credit card numbers and relying on verified names and physical addresses instead—perhaps in cooperation with services like PayPal and credit card companies?

Rob Preece says copyright is not dead, despite what Gerry Faulhaber thinks, and social DRM will only work if all users respect copyright.

If we can’t have social DRM, that is, if users insist on freely copying without regard to authors’ rights, then we certainly will have DRM, no matter what the inconvenience. Because one way or another, the economy depends on our ability to protect the rights of copyright and patent holders.

Finally, according to Todd Jonz the effects of piracy on content producers is a lie.

Yes, piracy exists; it always has, and it always will. But study after study has shown that the vast majority of consumers, certainly enough to sustain a healthy market, will pay a fair price for digital content if it is made available to them in the unencumbered formats they desire.

I know where I land on each of these issues, but I want to know what you think. Should publishers abandon DRM, write off piracy as the cost of doing business, and just concentrate on creating great content for which consumers are willing to pay? How would you feel about the Social DRM model, where we would imprint your name - and possibly other information on your e-content?

(Photo credit: Dori)

  • David H. Rothman

    Thanks for your kind words, Chris. I’ll pass ‘em on to Rob and Todd.

    Meanwhile-a reminder to you and your readers. We’re always open to new contributors, regardless of their views, as long as people are factual, logical, fair-minded and interesting.

    Yes, I’ve really enjoyed publishing Joe in the TeleBlog; he has a great S/N ratio and provides badly needed balance on various topics. - David

    David Rothman
    TeleRead Blog:
    E-mail: dr NOSPAM
    Phone: 703-370-6540

  • Rob Preece

    Thanks for the quote, Chris. I think you really caught the key points of my argument. Sure piracy will never completely go away, but we absolutely have to protect the idea that intellectual property has value and isn’t something that can be freely stolen.

    As I note in my post, DRM has its own set of issues-as a reader who relies on multiple devices (Palm PDA, Windows Handheld, and eBookWise among them) the ability to move freely between devices is important to me, and something that DRM creates problems for. That said, DRM wasn’t invented because some coders wanted to have a fun weekend creating hash codes.

    Over at, I don’t use DRM and support a variety of formats, but we specialize in novels and I can sustain an affordable pricing model (based on the theory that people will pirate less if they could buy a legal copy for a few bucks). If I were Microsoft, selling operating systems at a few hundred dollars a pop, I don’t think I could afford to wave my hands and assume that piracy didn’t matter-or assume that my developers would keep coding even if I didn’t pay them because they’re doing it for fun.

    Rob Preece

  • Kenneth Lawson

    Yes piracy happens,Yes,its never going to be completly stopped. However,DRM that is to restrictive and hard to use, and/or ties the consumers hands will only drive otherwise generally law abiding consumers to seek other ways to use their media the way they want. The concept of fair use is the primary doctrine behind fighting DRM. If the current DRM schemes that I read about and are discussed on the web are adopted, the consumers rights to “fair use” The right of a consumer to make backup copies and archive material for their own personal use will be severely limited or killed altogether. If hardware manufactures have to cripple their products just to please the powers that be, then innovation will be killed as well manufactures won’t be in a hurry to try to build new products if they can’t ad features because it interferes with DRM protocol , again the consumer loses.
    Check out my blog for my other thoughts on DRM and oher issues related to it;

  • Chris

    Thanks for your comments Kenneth. I am not a supporter of DRM as a consumer nor as a content provider.

    And thanks for the link to your blog, which I added to my feed reader this morning.

    Looking forward to more of the conversation.