Latest Stupid DRM Idea: Ebooks With Corrupted Texts That Vary By Customer

from the control-above-content dept

It is extraordinary how companies have failed to grasp three basic facts about DRM: that DRM only needs to be broken once, and it is broken everywhere, thanks to the Internet; that DRM is always broken at least once; and that once DRM is broken, anything still with that DRM is effectively worth less than zero -- since copies freely available online never have DRM. Despite these inconvenient truths, copyright companies continue to hope that there is some magic technology that will "protect" them from the pirates. Here's the latest forlorn attempt to do that, as reported by paidContent:

Germany's Fraunhofer Institute is working on a new ebook DRM dubbed SiDiM that would prevent piracy by changing the actual text of a story, swapping out words to make individualized copies that could be tracked by the original owner of the ebook.
This kind of fingerprinting is hardly new: it's used for music, and also for documents where people wish to track the origin of any leaks. But as paidContent points out:
in music files, these types of changes are a lot less notable than a machine rewriting a book, which is why it's unlikely that authors and literature friends would embrace SiDiM.
That's because the fingerprinting involves tampering with the integrity of the work -- imagine doing this to a book of poetry. It means that customers aren't really getting the work they paid for, but a modified, compromised version. Indeed, picking up on this theme, Nick Harkaway has written a splendid piece on Futurebook.net explaining why putting DRM above text fidelity is a really bad move for the art of the book:
I think the notion of a book which is reconfigured to provide a chain of evidence in a civil proceeding against the reader is repellant. I think that is in the most perfectly Teutonic sense an un-book. Books should not spy on you. I'm fascinated by Kobo's remarkable ability to track readers' progress through an ebook, and the commercial side of me really wants that information. But the civil liberties thinker in me hates that the facility exists and loathes the fact that people aren't entirely clear on how much they're telling the system about themselves. It really unsettles me. This is far worse: the deliberate creation of an engine of observation inside the text of the book. It stinks.
Any publishers adopting this technique will be betraying the very books they purport to defend, by turning them from cherished friends into potential traitors. A far better approach for everyone, including the publishing industry, would be to offer more and better books at reasonable prices -- with the correct, uncorrupted text.

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Filed Under: corrupted text, drm, ebooks
Companies: fraunhofer institute


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  1. icon
    Mark Murphy (profile), 21 Jun 2013 @ 6:51am

    Re: Re: "Integrity" not necessarily compromised

    "But to come up with thousands or hundreds of thousands of variations that can uniquely identify a leak"

    128 to 256 synonym pairs would be more than sufficient. Each represents an individual bit and can be flipped in combination.

    "That's a shitload of wasted time, money and effort"

    Speaking as an author, coming up with 128 to 256 synonym pairs would take me a couple of hours, tops. Remember that the algorithm involves not only the word flip, but the *specific* word flip. So, you come up with a pair of synonyms ("foo" and "bar"). Do a global search on the book to confirm which occurrences of "foo" can safely be switched to "bar" or vice-versa.

    "Surely that's better spent working out how to make customers more willing to buy?"

    Oh, I'm not saying that authors/publishers should be ignoring this. But you make it sound like this algorithm is rocket science, and it's not.

    "the risk of false positives"

    With 128 to 256 bits for the identity, a false positive (of the form where somebody tinkered with a copy to change the synonyms) is vanishingly unlikely. Tinkering with the book and toggling a synonym will make the book untraceable, but the odds of such a toggle happening to identify some other buyer is really tiny.

    "the ease with which it can often be removed or obfuscated"

    Somebody with two copies of the book could readily create a third copy that is untraceable. Few book readers would bother. Any DRM solution is toast in the face of a determined attack, and I'm not arguing otherwise.

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