Wednesday, January 16, 2008

DRM is bad

DRM, or Digital Rights Management, is technologies that allow publishers to control how video and e-books are used. For example, publishers can assign passwords, or prevent printing, or prevent copying paragraphs to the clipboard for pasting into book reports.

DRM is bad for purchasers because it is complex and error-prone. Publishers say it is a good deal from consumers, claiming the restriction prevents pirates from bootlegging copies, thus allowing the publishers to sell for lower prices. As e-books and song downloads cost nearly as much as buying hardcovers and CDs, this claim seems dubious.

With DRM, you effectively have the material but the ability to read it is stored online. One of the biggest dangers of DRM is that problems with the publisher will lock you out of media you've paid for! This happened recently when Major League Baseball cut off access for fans who had bought videos of baseball games.

Almost no one likes DRM. So it was surprising to see Kevin Barry and Zachary 'Beast' Beasley promoting it in their January 2008 Celator column, The Internet Connection. They write “We firmly believe that authors and publishers should be paid for their efforts, and DRM is particularly important for niche markets such as ancient coin reference books.”

There is a bit of irony here. The Celator doesn't pay. I doubt Barry and Beasley got paid to write that authors should be paid. Barry and Beasley write about the Internet, a medium where almost no one gets paid.

Most numismatic books lose money. Folks mostly write because they love to share their knowledge. It would be great if writers got paid more than, say, coin dealers. This doesn't happen. Making it harder to buy an e-book hurts writers.

The ANS library is worth a visit. They have 18th century numismatic books in open stacks. I have looked at these books. They still work. I don't get an error opening up an Eckhel or Mionnet tome because the publisher is out-of-business and my password didn't handle Y2k, or Y1800, or Latin becomming a dead language. If numismatic books get DRM-ed, then book buyers will get screwed just like baseball fans.

I'm not saying this because I'm a pirate. I don't copy books that are in-print, and I try hard to avoid copying out-of-print books. I prefer books to coins, and returned from the NY International show without any new coins but with three new books. I'm saying this as a friend. Avoid DRM.

I did purchase a DRM-ed numismatic book once, Barclay Head's BMC Ionia. Even though I paid, and had a password, my computer wasn't compatible. I downloaded a free program to bypass the DRM. I had to waste a lot of time. The 'publisher' didn't send a cent to Barclay Head. Not because he's been dead for 90 years, but because the book is in the public domain.

Barry and Beasley don't mention numismatic e-books, except to say Spink has no plans to publish any. A title that looks interesting is from Krause — 2008 Standard Catalog of World Coins 3 DVD Set. This is the Krause books 1801-1900, 1901-2000 and 2001-Present. I saw the box at the Krause booth at the NY International show last week but haven't used the product or seen it demonstrated. George Cuhaj confirmed the illustrations are black and white.

1 comment:

Voz Earl said...

Good post, I concur completely. I am of the opinion that obsession with copyright protection in general hampers intellectual progress and DRM in particular infringes on consumer rights. I can't see myself ever knowingly purchasing such a product--consider it voting with my wallet.