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. identicon
    cpt kangarooski, 21 Jun 2013 @ 7:47am

    Re: Re: "Integrity" not necessarily compromised

    But let us say you intend to sell 500.000 copies of that ebook. You'd need 500.000 iterations of such DRM which would mean the author would be forced into providing quite a few modifications that would not corrupt the original sense of the title.

    You'd need no less than 19 word pairs in the entire book; that would cover over 500,000 individual versions. Really, you'd want more -- not just because there's a chance the book will sell well necessitating a bigger number of identifiers, but also because you'll want to save some of them for parity so that if only a few are changed, you have some idea of what they were originally. The previous poster's suggestion of 128 to 256 word pairs seems reasonably reliable (despite the overall scheme being despicable).

    It is still corruptible by comparing enough different versions together and then randomly scrambling the choice of words in the word pairs used, but remember that even then it is a problem if you have a DRM-respecting reader which will phone home to make sure that whatever the watermark is, it is tied to your account. Whether it is someone else's or just scrambled up, it would know to block you; if it claims to be legitimately tied to you, your account at wherever you got it from would indicate the purchase, and if there were no record of a purchase, it would know it was pirated. Scrambling the watermark (if successful) can hide the origin of the pirated version, but still not be of much help to readers in an overly locked down environment.

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