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
    PaulT (profile), 21 Jun 2013 @ 7:26am

    Re: Re: Re: "Integrity" not necessarily compromised

    "128 to 256 synonym pairs would be more than sufficient"

    Pairs which will achieve the number of variations I mentioned. So, yes, we agree. The difficulty isn't the maths, it's the risk of changing the meaning of the text.

    "Do a global search on the book to confirm which occurrences of "foo" can safely be switched to "bar" or vice-versa."

    Depends on what you mean by "safely". Most authors use specific words for a reason, and the meaning or implications of a word can be changed by the context or placing. It's much more complicated than simply picking a few synonyms out of a thesaurus, if the author cares about their art.

    "But you make it sound like this algorithm is rocket science, and it's not."

    I'm not saying that the algorithm is complicated in itself, but it requires special care and attention to avoid disrupting the reader's experience and enjoyment of the end product. This either requires a lot of extra pointless work, or an admission that the publisher cares less about its customers than the fear of people who might be "stealing", neither of which is a good thing.

    "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"

    ...making it all the more problematic if someone is falsely identified. I'd also say that the risk of things getting changed to a valid fingerprint of another user is far higher than with audio or other digital fingerprint. This isn't about bits and encryption, it's about words that people can notice just by reading the same page from 2 different books. That's not even considering the fact that eBooks exist for many books that have no digital version to begin with (i.e. as long as printed books exist, pirated eBooks can exist without ever touching this DRM).

    "Somebody with two copies of the book could readily create a third copy that is untraceable."

    So, what's the point of the DRM in the first place? I mean, look at the movie industry. Most leaks tend to come from the studios or disc pressing plants, etc. rather than the public. Most books could easily be leaked in an untraceable format before the book's even released if it's this easy, the day of release at worst.

    "Few book readers would bother."

    Same point. If most people aren't bothering, and those who do will find the DRM trivial to bypass, what's the point of the time and effort put into creating and maintaining it for every title published?

    "Any DRM solution is toast in the face of a determined attack, and I'm not arguing otherwise."

    Well, at least we agree on that point, but I think that makes it even less valid to alter the very product you're buying in a noticeable way to create the DRM.

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