Friday, September 24, 2010

There is No Family in DRM

I have a problem. I just bought my wife an eBook reader for our anniversary (5 years!). It's a pretty good little gadget. Very simple to use, basically plug and read. The software is slick, and ties directly to their store. And their store is pretty closely tied to our local big-box bookstore.

I live in Canada, so our big book store is Chapters (slash Indigo, slash Coles... It's practically a monopoly of meat-space book selling, but that's another rant). The eReader is a Kobo.

Now buying books has gotten complicated. Morgan and I share a fairly large library already. Our tastes in literature overlap quite a bit, and often we'll both read a book shortly after buying it. However, as we step gingerly into this brave new digital world I am becoming worried that who owns what will hinder our enjoyment of our books.

Right now we have one eReader. Specifically she has an eReader, so things will work okay. She can buy eBooks through Kobo's website, sync them to her reader, and generally enjoy her new toy. If I want to read something she has bought in digital form, I'll just have to beg her to let me borrow the Kobo. Otherwise I'll stick to the Guttenberg versions.

But I don't think it will be very long until I get my own eReader. I can feel the gentle pangs of tech-jealousy already. Frankly, I've wanted an eReader for a while now. (I actually want a magical device that doesn't exist yet and does much more than a simple eReader could, but I'll settle for something with eInk). This is where things get complicated.

Do I have to use her account to get books she's bought onto my device (which may, or may not be a Kobo as well)? What happens when I want to buy a book? Where is the shared library? It used to be over on the other side of my living room on several Ikea bookcases. Now it resides online (under who's user ID?) or on PC (hers or mine?).

DRM works great from a single user perspective. A single person can buy stuff, move it about his various devices, and generally enjoy his content. DRM fails once the number of people sharing the content goes up to two. Either everyone has to use a shared account, or everyone has to buy their own content. Neither is what I want, especially since I like to centralize all of our shared content in a shared network location but we both contribute to the library individually. DRM makes that hard to do too.

I have no illusions that DRM is going to be around for a while. But to make this easier for everyone the DRM services have to get smarter about connecting people's content. Basically, what I want to do is connect my DRM account to Morgan's DRM account. I can buy content, and she can buy content, but we both have access to it because the accounts are linked. I can manage the DRM on my devices, she can manage hers. We can even have private content that we don't share. The point is that we can still have the shared library, which is the important part.

Someone needs to get on this now because not too long from now my son Damian is going to want to get content of his own, and have access to mine. If I have to buy DRM protected content, then at least make it easy for me to share it with my family. And this doesn't just apply to eBooks (Adobe Digital Editions, I'm looking at you) but to music, movies, and video games as well. Apple needs to add this to iTunes, Microsoft needs to add it to the Xbox Live service. And anyone else thinking of locking their content to a single user account needs to re-think their approach. Not everyone is a unit, single and apart. Morgan, Damian and I are now three people that make one family, who share our content.


  1. The truth behind DRM is not that it is intended to stop piracy, but that it is intended to stop sharing within a family or tight knit group of friends.

    DRM has never stopped piracy and will never do so. I would, since you're in Canada, consider circumvention measures to any platform that it's feasible and that it's legal.

    Otherwise, DRM is not meant to prevent piracy but to force legitimate users to buy multiple copies.

  2. Circumvention AFTER buying a legal copy, that is.

  3. I heartily agree, and am considering it as one of my options for creating a family library. I do this already by buying CDs and converting them to MP3s myself.

    However, there is an additional consideration with books that deserves another post when I have some time: Physicality.