You Don't Own What You've Bought: Microsoft's Books 'Will Stop Working'

from the the-end-of-ownership dept

The latest in our forever ongoing series, recognizing in the digital age how you often no longer own what you’ve bought, thanks to DRM and copyright: this week, people with Microsoft ebooks will discover they’re dead.

Microsoft made the announcement in April that it would shutter the Microsoft Store?s books section for good. The company had made its foray into ebooks in 2017, as part of a Windows 10 Creators Update that sought to round out the software available to its Surface line. Relegated to Microsoft?s Edge browser, the digital bookstore never took off. As of April 2, it halted all ebook sales. And starting as soon as this week, it?s going to remove all purchased books from the libraries of those who bought them.

Other companies have pulled a similar trick in smaller doses. Amazon, overcome by a fit of irony in 2009, memorably vanished copies of George Orwell?s 1984 from Kindles. The year before that, Walmart shut down its own ill-fated MP3 store, at first suggesting customers burn their purchases onto CDs to salvage them before offering a download solution. But this is not a tactical strike. There is no backup plan. This is The Langoliers. And because of digital rights management?the mechanism by which platforms retain control over the digital goods they sell?you have no recourse. Microsoft will refund customers in full for what they paid, plus an extra $25 if they made annotations or markups. But that provides only the coldest comfort.

This tweet kind of sums up the insanity here:

As Cory Doctorow points out in discussing all of this, he has been predicting this kind of nonsense for years now — including in a 2004 speech delivered at Microsoft.

This puts the difference between DRM-locked media and unencumbered media into sharp contrast. I have bought a lot of MP3s over the years, thousands of them, and many of the retailers I purchased from are long gone, but I still have the MP3s. Likewise, I have bought many books from long-defunct booksellers and even defunct publishers, but I still own those books.

When I was a bookseller, nothing I could do would result in your losing the book that I sold you. If I regretted selling you a book, I didn’t get to break into your house and steal it, even if I left you a cash refund for the price you paid.

People sometimes treat me like my decision not to sell my books through Amazon’s Audible is irrational (Audible will not let writers or publisher opt to sell their books without DRM), but if you think Amazon is immune to this kind of shenanigans, you are sadly mistaken. My books matter a lot to me. I just paid $8,000 to have a container full of books shipped from a storage locker in the UK to our home in LA so I can be closer to them. The idea that the books I buy can be relegated to some kind of fucking software license is the most grotesque and awful thing I can imagine: if the publishing industry deliberately set out to destroy any sense of intrinsic, civilization-supporting value in literary works, they could not have done a better job.

For everyone who likes to (laughably) claim that supporting copyright is about supporting property rights, this (and all those other) stories show the exact opposite is often true. Copyright is often used to destroy property rights and to destroy ownership.

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Comments on “You Don't Own What You've Bought: Microsoft's Books 'Will Stop Working'”

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63 Comments
TripMN says:

Re: Re:

It is a bit of a conundrum that you have to commit a crime (route around DRM in violation of CFAA) to make sure something you bought stays available for your own use. This is the same craziness of not allowing ripping CDs or DVDs. I want to put the thing I bought in a place I find convenient and can make sure doesn’t get destroyed. How is this a crime?

Of course this plays against certain business’s future revenue streams. They can’t make me pay 2, 3, or 4 times for the same thing because it doesn’t get broken, become unavailable, or can’t be format shifted to the newest tech.

Agammamon says:

Re: Re: Re:

It is a bit of a conundrum that you have to commit a crime (route around DRM in violation of CFAA) to make sure something you bought stays available for your own use.

I don’t really consider it like that. We’re loooooong past the point where anyone should consider ‘illegal’ to be equivalent to ‘immoral’.

There are laws that make sense – so I obey them. There are laws that don’t or are actively evil. I disobey them when I need to and think I can get away with it.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Illegal ≠ unethical / legal ≠ ethical

Curiously legality is a common first argument from some people, whether torture / mass surveillance / civil forfeiture is legal and therefore proper, or that immigrants have broken the law and thus are despicable.

That doesn’t even get into double standards, e.g. my piracy is moral, where yours is not or my abortion is moral where yours is not.

James Burkhardt (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

There is actually a serious question if my process is considered bypassing a technical restriction as defined in the DMCA. I run a program that plays back the file via normal and legal means and captures the output as a new audio file. Under the most common ‘Access’ test whereby bypassing a TPM that can prevent access is a violation, it is likely a violation of the DMCA, though it depends on if the court determines that after the legal decryption of the audio stream the TPM remains in effect such that capturing that stream is bypassing the TPM. (the CSS encryption case relied on the illict access to the DVD encryption keys, something I do not need as I am using iTunes to play the file legally)

However, under the Nexus test used in the fifth circut it becomes a lot more questionable. The TPM does not seem to prevent the actual rights granted by copyright (copying, distribution), except perhaps "public performance" right, but that seems to fail as well. Therefore, it might be that the TPM would fail the second prong of the Nexus test.

Thad (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

You’ve got the general idea right but you’re off-base on a couple of details.

It is a bit of a conundrum that you have to commit a crime (route around DRM in violation of CFAA) to make sure something you bought stays available for your own use.

The CFAA does not address DRM. You’re thinking of the DMCA.

This is the same craziness of not allowing ripping CDs or DVDs.

Ripping DVDs is illegal under the DMCA. CDs are unencrypted, and as far as I know it’s legal to copy them for backup and format-shifting purposes.

While there were some attempts to build copy protection mechanisms into music CDs, they were never terribly effective. I’m not aware of any court cases that tested whether CD copy-protection measures were strong enough that working around them constituted a DMCA violation. (For example, in the Sony rootkit case, all you had to do to rip the CD was disable autoplay. Or use a Mac, or any other non-Windows computer.)

But, circling back to your main point: yes, stripping DRM off media you’ve "purchased" is illegal, even if what you do with the content afterward isn’t. And that’s completely nuts.

Rekrul says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

CDs are unencrypted, and as far as I know it’s legal to copy them for backup and format-shifting purposes.

While there were some attempts to build copy protection mechanisms into music CDs, they were never terribly effective.

Only because they didn’t think of adding DRM right from the start. You can be certain that if they were designing the CD spec today, it would be encrypted and locked down.

Thad (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

If they were designing the CD spec in 2005, it would be encrypted and locked down.

If they were designing it today, I don’t think it would be. While DRM is still in wide use in a lot of media (ebooks, video games, videos, etc.), it’s long since collapsed in the music download market. You’ll still see DRM on streaming audio and audiobooks, but nobody sells songs with DRM anymore.

Release the Ankle-Biters says:

Re: Re: "TripMN": archiving is NOT a crime. Why claim is?

I want to put the thing I bought in a place I find convenient and can make sure doesn’t get destroyed. How is this a crime?

You’re trying to meld a corporate position into Law and then attack copyright as such.

Now, soon as another person uses one of those copies while the first exists, then it IS a crime (in fine point). You probably won’t actually get punished for it, so de facto civil offense.

Quit worrying and quit attacking copyright for what it isn’t! As The Bible says: The guilty shriek before they’re even suspected.

techflaws (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

The crime here is the atrocious quality of Audible’s material. I’ve tried it once and stripped the DRM only to find 128 kbit mp3s encoding with something that sounds like the Xing encoder from the 90s. When I contacted them they said DRMing was necessary but of course offered NO explanation why they couldn’t put files with higher bitrate and/encoded by LAME into the containers.

Since then I’ve switched to ripping my Audiobook CDs and never looked back.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

It might be that digital books have some weight, and a certain amount of volume (on a hard disk), they compare very favorably with dead tree books. 3500 digital books fit easily on your tablet or smart phone, while the same number of even paperbacks would take a wall of space and quite a lot of weight.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Digital’s not the problem(though it does enable it), rather DRM and ‘licensing’ are the problems.

A non-DRM infected ebook can last you just as long as a physical copy, and is only likely to disappear for similar reasons that will destroy a physical copy(with the added benefit that you can back up a digital copy just in case that happens).

Anonymous Coward says:

This is why the first thing I do when I buy a digital book is strip the DRM. It doesn’t really matter to me whether it’s technically legal or not (it is in almost all cases), it’s that I want a backup copy I know I can restore at a later time even if the device I originally used it on no longer functions. It needs to be in a format that I could read as bits off of the backup medium and manually re-create into something legible myself. This severely limits the number of acceptable file formats for backups.

ECA (profile) says:

I find it stupid

That E-books are written in a format that CAN self destruct..
Cant there be a reader that DOES NOT read the DRM part…and just works(HINT HINT)
Isnt there a way to Copy/reformat/transfer without the DRM built in?? (hint hint)

Music is interesting and unless they FIND a proprietary FORMAT, all thats needed is to MOVE the file… Apple wont tell you that, as well as NOT USE apple products if you want to KEEP your music.
(HINT HINT HINT HINT)

YOU have a right to BACKUP your data…(DVD(most) cant be erased..NOT easily..)

Release the Ankle-Biters says:

Re: Re: I find it stupid -- "ECA" been doing that near 12 years!

PLEASE stop WITH the RANDOM word CAPITALIZATION for NO apparent REASON.

A glance at history should convince of the futility trying to get "ECA" to change. You’d do better to rail at ME.

And you seem to think some sense can be gleaned! HA, HA!

My bet is that "ECA" is an early attempt at Artificial Commenting which they keep as a control and to see if ever changes.

Otherwise, you cannot explain TWELVE YEARS of the same schtick without any evidence of self-awareness! It’s inhuman.

Anonymous Coward says:

Microsoft will refund customers in full for what they paid, plus an extra $25 if they made annotations or markups. But that provides only the coldest comfort.

I disagree. This is the best possible outcome. Everyone will get their money back and can go elsewhere to buy the same books or totally new ones if they’ve read and don’t care to re-read books they purchased. I couldn’t ask for a better outcome.

Release the Ankle-Biters says:

They've no longer paid. Refunded so no basis to object.

And of coiurse they never "owned" the books in first place. LICENSED TO VIEW ONLY.

Microsoft is a vast corporation. Any user of its services is a mere user. The End User Licensing Agreement was/is a contract between Microsoft and User that allowed this.

Masnick, you ardently support corporations and EULA when serves your purposes. Here your purpose is to attack copyright so shriek about some vague violation of "rights".

Gary (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

How do you feel when copyright is used by corporations to censor speech without a court order?

What Mr. Balls is in denial about is that this isn’t a "Shrinkwrap" issue with nasty corporations imposing draconian use limitations.

This is Copoyright law making it a criminal offense to decrypt, shift, or backukp your purchased eBooks.

And as the article states you don’t get your books. Free, or paid, they go away – poof. Your annotations – poof. Taking what you paid for is actually theft. These files are going away. (But if it’s ok to steal if you hand over some money it’s ok I guess?)

Anonymous Coward says:

100k+ ebooks in my collection

I have been collecting ebooks for decades now. I have calibre and use it to strip out DRM for any books I acquire that have it, but I avoid DRM’d books above all else. No store closure will ever affect my collection. I have also given away copies of it to friends and family to prevent a fire from destroying it. The only thing that could stop me enjoying my ebooks in old age is death or Electronic death via Carrington Event or nuclear/EMP warfare.

Theoden (profile) says:

Nothing New Here

I have a copy of Bill Gates’ book, published in 1995, that came with a CD-ROM. The CD included a digital copy of the book and additional information that you could access on your computer.

I found the CD a few years ago and tried to run it, but the issue was the version of Windows I had (Windows 7, if I remember right). According to the CD the program required a newer version of Windows – Windows 95 or better.

Not planned to be obsolete and useless, but Tech seems to find a way to screw up everyone’s investments no matter how much they claim otherwise.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Nothing New Here

Home-burned CDs do indeed decay over time. Add to that the fact that early burning tech and the discs themselves were fairly low-grade or inaccurate and you have a recipe for inaccessible data.

CDs are better than magnetic media in that regard but still subject to decay. Factory burned discs last far longer.

Rekrul says:

Re: Nothing New Here

I found the CD a few years ago and tried to run it, but the issue was the version of Windows I had (Windows 7, if I remember right). According to the CD the program required a newer version of Windows – Windows 95 or better.

And the funny part is that you can get DOSBox for DOS games/programs, and all the virtual machines come with full support for Windows XP or better, but NONE of them properly support Win9x. There’s tons of software that works best, or only on Win9x, but yet nobody seems interested in making a fully supported virtual machine that runs it.

DB (profile) says:

A forced refund is often not fair compensation.

A fundamental principle of economics is "excess value". You don’t purchase something unless it delivers value significantly in excess of its price. If its price exactly matches it value, "frictional factors" such as risk, transaction cost, opportunity cost, etc mean that the rational choice is not to buy.

I’m sure that some will argue that most of the value in the book is in the first reading. Sure, I might be happy with a refund of that 2014 calendar. But I probably won’t be happy with a forced refund for my 2014 daily journal, or a specific edition of a book that I referenced by page number in my research.

Bruce C. says:

Some alternative modes of attack?

If a DRMed product is marketed as being bought, and doesn’t clearly state on the label that it’s only a license, that’s clearly false advertising.

Consumer education: if a license agreement for a DRMed product isn’t a perpetual license or it says that it can be terminated unilaterally by the vendor/publisher or otherwise cause you lose access to the book, it clearly isn’t worth the full price of the book itself. More like $1 than $100.

There might be a constitutional argument against the anti-cracking (or other) provisions of the DMCA, but IANAL.

Legislation: Not likely to pass, but the idea would be that if you sell works or perpetual licenses under DRM and you stop servicing the DRM for any reason (including going out of business), you lose the copyright. If you try to sell/transfer the copyright, or the copyright is sold due to legal proceedings like bankruptcy, the buyer has to service the DRM under the same terms. This isn’t just to preserve purchasers rights, it’s also to prevent orphan works from completely disappearing because nobody can legally read them. If a work is no longer copyrighted, then the DRM is no longer locking a copyrighted work, so circumvention becomes legal.

Thad (profile) says:

Re: Some alternative modes of attack?

Legislation: Not likely to pass, but the idea would be that if you sell works or perpetual licenses under DRM and you stop servicing the DRM for any reason (including going out of business), you lose the copyright.

Booksellers generally don’t own the copyrights on the books they sell.

Often the publisher doesn’t own the copyright either, merely a publication license from the author.

The copyright holder often is not the same person who makes decisions about DRM.

bobob says:

That is one of the reasons I only buy hardcopies of books. Another is that it’s much easier to flip back and forth with a hardcopy when using it as a reference. I’ve paid more than $200.00 each for several reference texts and I wouldn’t take an ebook of those texts for $10.00. Just because you can put books into digital format doesn’t mean it’s a good idea, unless you can print them and bind them.

Rekrul says:

As Techdirt has illustrated, this keeps happening over and over, but I see no sign that the general public is learning any lessons from it. They keep paying for DRM crippled stuff, only to have the rug repeatedly yanked out from under them. And now all the game companies look poised to go this route as well. As long as the suckers keep falling for it, this will keep happening. 🙁

nick (profile) says:

I’m surprised that there aren’t already laws to deal with this. As in, some legal requirement to remove the DRM when shutting down the service.

If they can just shut down the service and remove what you legally purchased, then surely that was false advertising in the first instance. You weren’t actually buying the books; you were, at best, renting them.

Or is it just me?

Thad (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I’m surprised that there aren’t already laws to deal with this.

If you find the dysfunction of the current US government, and its relationship with lobbyists, to be surprising, I’m afraid you haven’t been paying attention.

It’s a damn shame, but it’s not a surprise.

You weren’t actually buying the books; you were, at best, renting them.

The term is licensing. And it’s clearly spelled out in a license agreement that nobody reads.

Gerald Robinson (profile) says:

End copyright

Copyright was invented by the London Stationers Guild to ensure that the publisher made money. Why, well if a physical book was not published it didn’t exist. It never was about creative’s rights, and it still isn ‘t! Microsoft tried to do the right thing. You just take the money and replace the book, but what about your time to locate it, drive to a book store (good luck finding one or a given book) or down load it. What if it’s not available? What will you do in a couple years when you must upgrade your TV or it stops working? What if your car swerved into on conning traffic and you can’t effectively sue the manfacturer, because ZDRM prevents examination of his faulty code. (That could easily have happened with the 737 crashes where faulty code over ride the pilots and crashed the plane [criminally England design played a part too])!

Is copyright still a good thing? The publisher can off load the costs on the creative and only a few majors provide any editing, even the big guys like ACE, don’t do a through editing job (spelling corrector and typeahead errors show up).
Copyright does not really help the creative. A big publisher has the bucks to go after criminal copyright violators, but the creative does not, so again copyright only benefits the big publisher. Some copyrights are destructive and ridiculous ; photos, software, design interfaces….

Copyright is way too long. Most material now is operating instructions and technical materal, average life is somewhere between 3 and 5 years-not the 99 of copyright.

John Snape says:

Just putting this out there

and not advocating breaking any laws…:

https://epubor.com/

https://www.elcomsoft.com/

(DRM removal for books)

https://www.redfox.bz/en/anydvdhd.html

https://handbrake.fr/

(DRM removal for DVDs and Bluray discs and conversion to other formats)

https://www.mediahuman.com/?mh_product=youtubetomp3&mh_version=3.9.9.16&mh_source=app-home

(Save MP3s from YouTube)

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