A kinder, gentler DRM?

With Harry Potter fan site and e-bookstore Pottermore.com now using watermarking instead of heavyweight DRM on all the Harry Potter e-books, anti-DRM arguments are growing louder. Now the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF), the organization that oversees the EPUB e-book format, hopes to create an industry standard for “lightweight content protection” — something “occupying a middle ground between strong DRM and DRM-free.”

The IDPF is taking the first steps toward creating this standard by launching a discovery process — though it acknowledges the outcome of this process could be “that no feasible standardized solution would be sufficiently useful or accepted, or that no solution is forthcoming that will sufficiently address critical requirements.” Nevertheless, copyright expert Bill Rosenblatt writes, there’s “a growing recognition among publishers that DRM has aspects that work against their interests, including its lack of user-friendliness and eBook distributors’ use of the technology to ‘lock in’ consumers.”

The lightweight DRM Rosenblatt proposes would look something like this:

  • Books are watermarked and users can share them, but “unlike watermarking alone, cracks would be considered definitively illegal.”
  • The DRM would include a password option that “could be used to discourage ‘over-sharing’ by requiring passwords that contain personal information, such as an e-mail address or credit card number.”
  • There are limits on modification, copying and printing “in a matter similar to the encryption incorporated in PDF.”
  • It would work for libraries and could be made stricter for library lending.
  • It wouldn’t require network connectivity and a reader could still access his or her files if a company goes out of business.
  • It wouldn’t impose “excessive restrictions on user behavior, such as prohibiting uses that could well be permissible under copyright law” like reading an e-book on a different device.

Overall, Rosenblatt writes, “a standard method of protecting eBook content that becomes broadly adopted would materially increase interoperability, ameliorate some of the ease-of-use limitations in current DRMs, and may promote broader adoption of digital reading.”

IDPF is taking comments through June 8.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock/Stacie Smith Photography.

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