A free culture trip through Kobo land

This year finally the kids are getting ebook readers for Christmas. So far I have been holding off from purchasing such devices because of the Digital Restrictions Management which is associated with them.

My opposition to them changed somewhat when I found that one of my favorite book publishers (O'Reilly) does not use any DRM and they actually trust their customers enough to take their word for it when they state that they already own the paper copy of a book so that they can then qualify for a $5 upgrade to the digital version. And these are not cheap books often between $50 and $100 per copy. This has bought a lot of good will from me, and when I am looking for technical books in the future (which I do frequently) I will certainly try to give preference to O'Reilly.

Before taking the e-reader plunge I did a few tests to ensure that I would be able to strip any DRM from my purchases. My first test involved getting an ebook from the public library and seeing if any of the deDRM software worked with them. Sadly before even being able to test the software I encountered a road block acquiring even a DRM book. It appeared that library books, (as well as books from some other DRM vendors) required the use of Adobe Digital Editions software. The website for this software used flash to determine your operating system and offered the user the appropriate choice based on its determination. Most sites used the User-Agent line in the HTTP request which is easily spoofed. This wasn't going to be spoofed and wasn't going to let me download anything onto my Linux machine. I did learn later (no thanks to Adobe) that there is page from which you can download the windows installer directly regardless of your operating system

At this point however, I was stuck booting up a windows virtual machine to complete my tests.

Adobe DE and the deDRM software (from this site), worked well despite being a windows only programs. the deDRM software at least was also installable under Linux with wine.

Finally, I purchased a few Kobo book readers having concluded that it used an open format for books which was supported by many ebook suppliers, whereas the Kindle was a 100% proprietary format and was not supported by most other vendors. My hope was to be able to primarily purchases non_DRM'd books, and use some of the DRM removal software for books which absolutely were not available DRM free. I remain quite adamant that I will not permit any books I purchase to remain with DRM intact.

Upgrading my O'Reilly library was a pretty simple process, and downloading several public domain books was easy too, although finding public domain versions of George Orwell's books was a little problematic as there are very few countries where his work has manage to make it to the PD.

Unfortunately much of the rest of my initial experiences with ebooks has not been as good.

Two books I initially wanted to purchase were "How to fix copyright" by William Paltry, for myself; and "39 Clues: A King's Ransom" by Jude Watson, for my son. Both books where available on compostable storage medium from various vendors, and both were available in DRM'd Amazon and Barnes&Noble formats. None were available without DRM and none were available in even a DRM version compatible with my Kobo.

I had already found DRM stripping software which worked on Kobo's DRM and tested it with Ontario library books. Now I needed more software to strip and convert other vendor DRM as well.

I found more user friendly DRM stripping software for all formats from the same site I got the first deDRM software from and downloaded the B&N version. I then proceeded to Barnes and Nobel to risk the $10 and buy my book. I got as far though the process as giving them my credit card number before the system choked and told me that they did not sell these books internationally. Why? Sigh. Next stop, Amazon.

Once again I downloaded the Kindle version of the software then proceeded to Amazon to risk my money. Fortunately this time it worked. I got the book, the ebook-converter.com deDRM software worked on the kindle book, and Calibre ebook library software was mostly successful in converting the stripped kindle book into an EPUB which my Kobo could read. It was also at about this time that I learned how to get the Adobe software and then install it under Linux with wine.

Success.

Finally.

After many hours of getting software to work which the publishers demanded I use to acquire the books, then a lot of time and money spent finding and testing other software so that I could read the books and keep them secure, I finally got a system together that worked reasonably well for me.

In the end I think I made the right decision. ebooks are convenient and a logical next step for distribution. However traditional publishers certainly lost a lot respect from me (not that they had much to begin with), and I will feel no guilt acquiring their products through pirate sites when what I want is available there. Respecting their copyright requires more of my time, and the use (and sometimes purchase) of additional DRM cracking software. O'Rielly on the other hand, and other publishers that do not use DRM and show some respect towards their customers as a result, will get as much business as I can send their way. Perhaps eventually the book business will learn the difficult lesson that the music business took a long time learning. That DRM doesn't work and costs more in good will then they lose though pirating.

Sadly, I don't think they will learn it any easier than the music industry did, and the government's bill C-11 which gives extra privileges for publishers who choose to use DRM, will prolong the decision process. I expect it to cost our economy considerably in the mean time.

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DRM-free vs de-DRM

I haven't purchased any eBooks yet, as I either read online material (general websites, blogs, etc) or in paper format. For fiction I have recently preferred audio books, which I get DRM-free from eMusic.

For music, there is enough on eMusic that I simply don't bother accessing anything that isn't available through them or for free elsewhere. If a musician wants me to pay them for their music, or to bother listening at all, they need to get their stuff on eMusic.

For movies and television I don't have that same choice, so I purchase DVD's (Never Blu-ray) which I will rip. In fact, it was the desire of the big studios to push towards Blu-ray that convinced me to finally look at DVD's beyond the two that I bought for a 2001 submission to that round of Copyright consultations.

I also have NetFlix, which if I ever wanted a copy of I could record from the composite video outputs the same way people have for generations (VCRs, PVR's, etc). There is no DRM with NetFlix by the time it gets to my television. I find it annoying that they have tied the ability to access NetFlix to specific brands of access technology, but like any type of DRM they are only successful at annoying paying customers and never at discouraging copyright infringement.

The point of this note is that I just find it interesting that my choice between mandating DRM-free or whether I de-DRM something that comes infected depends on the specific type of content.

I also look forward to when copyright holders and policy makers recognise that there are likely greater losses from misunderstood and misapplied technological measures than from copyright infringement.

While certain hardware manufacturers may benefit in various anticompetitive and anti-ownership ways, we as a society should not be allowing these business models built upon infringement to continue to exist.