Why DRM is a bad idea for books

My colleague, respected academic Bård Kuvaas, told me about his problems with an Adobe eBook he had purchased at Amazon UK. The book, Psychological Management of Individual Performance costs £94 ($172, about NOK1100). He downloaded it, things worked fine, until he decided to upgrade his Adobe Acrobat from the reader software to the full, commercial Adobe Reader/Writer. Now he can no longer access his eBook, and has so far not gotten any help from Adobe, from Wiley (the publisher) or from Amazon.
I think this little case illustrates the problem with DRM technology: Bård is in many respects the ideal eBook customer – a serious scientist willing to shell out serious money for copyrighted information that he needs. And when he decides to upgrade to a better version of the reader software, he loses access to the product he has purchased. (And just so you know – Bård is not an IT specialist, but proficient enough to purchase eBooks and install new software from a network. And yes, he has sought help from the school’s very competent IT department, which can’t figure this one out either.)
I especially like his very low-key conclusion:

If copyright issues regarding ebooks are so complicated that honest customers cannot access their books, I don’t think ebooks will have any success among scholars or students in Norway.

My thoughts exactly.
Update: The issue, for this specific instance, has been resolved – after reading about this on Boingboing, a representative from Wiley has contacted Dr. Kuvaas, and a new eBook has been sent from Amazon. (The underlying problem – software that makes products hard to use – is still there.)

Date: Wed Apr 20 09:23:54 UTC 2005
Subject: Product has potential safety issue
To: form-info@amazon.co.uk
From: bard.kuvaas@bi.no
Hi I sent the following information to the publisher – but have not heard from them – can you help me?
In January I bought my first ebook (ISBN: B0000E68Z2), which is
published by Wiley. I have one copy on my laptop and a backup on my
external harddrive. Last week, I downloaded and installed Adobe
Professional (writer 6.0) from our company network (Norwegian School
of Management, BI) – during the installation some files from the
Adobe version that I downloaded and installed when I bought the ebook
(from Amazon.com UK) were deleted. Since then, I have not been able
to access my ebook – I have tried to get help from our computer staff
but they have not been able to help me.
Adobe thinks that I’m using another computer, while I’m not – and
it didn’t help to activate the computer through some Adobe DRM
Activator stuff. Now I have spent at least 10 hours trying to access
my ebook – hope you can help
If copyright issues regarding ebooks are so complicated that honest
customers cannot access their books, I don’t think ebooks will have
any success among scholars or students in Norway. I was dissatisfied
that Amazon.com couldn’t provide me with a hard copy, now I’m even
more dissatisfied.
Answer from Amazon:
Dear Customer
Thank you for contacting us at Amazon.co.uk with your concern.
E-Books are designed to be downloaded and stored on one computer. Owing to the encryption of the e-Book file, you will not be able to move the file.
Copying your downloaded e-Books to removable media will change the unique Hardware ID that the Reader software searches for. As a result, you may receive an “Activation Error” error message when you attempt to open the books after switching them from one media format to another.
This also runs the risk of the e-Books becoming corrupted, so that it
cannot be downloaded again. For these reasons, we would strongly discourage you from attempting to move your e-Books to removable
Thank you for shopping at Amazon.co.uk.
Warmest regards
Falguni Das
Customer Service
Free UK delivery on orders over GBP 19 (See details & conditions)

13 thoughts on “Why DRM is a bad idea for books

  1. Boing Boing

    DRMed ebooks cost lots and break when you upgrade Acrobat

    My friend Espen, in Oslo, writes in with the story of a friend of his who bought an ebook for $172 (yes, a hundred and seventy two DOLLARS), then upgraded his version of Acrobat and lost the ability to read it. No one answers his tech support emails an…

  2. ...here's a whosit

    Why DRM is a bad idea for books

    A story about how DRM can be bad for customers. A professor spent $172 on ebooks from Adobe, upgraded Acrobat and now can’t access these books. Amazon (from whom he bought the book) don’t want to know, and suggest that he’s changed computers, or someh…

  3. Paul Murphy

    I have the same problem with an eBook I bought from Amazon US, “VoiceXML 2.0 Developer’s Guide” (ISBN: B00008KJ5H). Am now following up with Amazon. I stopped buying music from the iTunes store because it’s such a pain to manage. Looks like I’m not going to bother w/ any more eBooks. Sad.

  4. jaslor megaHz

    This is awful, DRM sucks and if you break it to get something you are entitled to you are guilty under the European Union Copyright Directive (EU DCMA).
    I reckon you should write again clearly listing why you are in the right and informing them that as the goods are not fit for the purpose (i.e. reading them) you will sue them in the small claims court.
    Be nice, give them every opportunity to cough up, small claims court judges like this.
    Then take them to small claims court it costs 35 and is useful for claims upto 1000. And if they don’t pay the judge can freeze their bank account.
    The great thing is at small claims they cannot countersue and if you lose you only lose 35.

  5. the slacker

    Don’t forget to register the shareware version by setting the registry key in:
    HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Elcom\Advanced eBook Processor\Registration

  6. Alereon

    Sadly, Adobe Ebook DRM can’t be cracked anymore. The software relied on an exploit for the Adobe Ebook Reader, software which no longer exists or works.

  7. if:book

    self-destructing books

    Publishers need to get away from the idea of selling “copies” and start experimenting with charging for access to a library of titles. You pay for the service, not for the copy. Digital books are immaterial – so the idea of the “copy” has to be …

  8. T'aZ

    just dont buy DRM stuff, doing so and you become as bad as the one who think about that shit.

  9. T'aZ

    and if that means no more reading, or doing something ‘defined illegal’ , then too bad, but dont give a single to these morons

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