Monday, December 07, 2009

Hard and Soft DRM: Part 2

Soft DRM

What we have in the physical world today is ‘Soft DRM’. We print a page in the front matter of the book which informs all of the copyright licence and who owns it etc. Whether it is a traditional notice or a creative commons licence, the statement is made and the rendition is clearly covered by it. It is ‘soft’ in that it is not enforced by technology, only law.

In a digital book we can also state the licence, but we also recognise the ease of the opportunity to copy, distribute and break the licence. So is there any options that can aid a softer approach to digital copyright enforcement that may reduce the risk of copyright infringement but be better than no DRM at all?

The obvious technology is one watermarking. Watermarking has already proved its worth in the audio and media markets which when used has not resulted mass infringement.

If we look at the two most popular digital ebook format we have different issues, opportunities and challenges. The Adobe ebook pdf format can be visibly watermarked on each page and also this can be protected from open removal. Each page can be uniquely stamped with a watermark which could identify the unique licence, transaction, and source. This can easily be achieved dynamically at point of download and although not unbreakable is a clear deterrent.

However, the epub format is not so secure as it is a mere container which can easily be opened and the watermark removed. This doesn’t mean that the use of unique visible watermarks will not work just that they are very easy to remove. We can however add an additional invisible watermark which is harder to detect and remove and may prove equally as effective. The benefit of a watermark is that it clearly can relate back to a pacific manifestation.

Soft DRM isn’t about creating a foolproof, pirate proof solution but about stating copyright ownership and the licence position. We believe that they will deter all but those hell bent on infringement and it is questionable what will deter these pirates.

An interesting twist is that we are increasingly being asked by European publishers for soft DRM and by UK and US publishers for hard DRM. We started to wonder why? Many Europeans stated that it was probably because they were behind the US and UK markets and lacked the sophistication and issues faced by other markets. However we believe that Europeans were less interested in the eink readers and more aware of online and mobile opportunities. They appear to be more focused on digitising their own indigenous market than merely opening the flood gates to a US invasion. The US and UK markets on the other hand are blindly obsessed with the eink gadgetry and chasing digital rabbits.

So the question of DRM is more about why, than technology for technology sake and blindly playing ‘follow my leader’. Music and audio have clearly moved but books appear transfixed in the headlights and glare of DRM and piracy.

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