Do you really own your ebooks?

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Digital reading has exploded in the COVID-19 era, and e-books, which were once called “disruptors,” are once again stealing the show. As readers or consumers, have you ever wondered if you really own the eBooks you buy? Can you create a collection outside of the Amazon ecosystem?

Before we answer the million dollar question, we first need to understand how the digital book publishing industry works.

Let me start by saying that I know all aspects of eBook development; I produced hundreds of ebooks when I was a publisher. I converted printed books to e-books and distributed them to e-bookstores. Therefore, I can shed some light on the matter.

When you buy an eBook from stores like Amazon, Google Play Books, or Kobo, they usually come with digital rights management (DRM) and sometimes a watermark. However, some publishers refuse to use them, so not all eBooks have DRM protection. If you are unfamiliar with the basic details about eBooks and DRM, you can read the article I wrote not long ago. But if you are pressed for time, let me explain: DRM is simply the use of technology to protect copyrighted digital content such as music, movies, e-books, etc. etc.

Watermarking is a process by which identifiable marks are encoded on an eBook copy to make it traceable to the person who purchased it.

These two forms of protection became industry standards about ten years ago. DRM works when a raw ebook file, such as ePub, is protected by software to make it unreadable by other systems. Amazon uses DRM, if the publisher wants to use it on their eBooks, so you can’t move your DRM-protected eBooks to another platform, making it a walled garden.

DRM also works by placing restrictions on the eBooks you buy. Although it gives you access to playback the content, it does not allow downloading the raw copy. You don’t own the ebook like you would a printed book. You only pay for the license to play the content.

In 2019, tech giant Microsoft finally shut down its electronic bookstore, sparking discussion about digital ownership. “Isn’t that strange? If you are a Microsoft customer, you paid for these books. They are yours. Except that I’m afraid they are not, and they never have been, “wrote the BBC at the time.

Meanwhile, watermark (sometimes mistakenly referred to as software or social DRM) uses watermarks and other less sophisticated forms of technology to mark an individual ebook file. Although you still own the ebook, you cannot distribute it over the web because your copy is identifiable. The marks may or may not be visible to the naked eye, so you should think twice before sharing them with friends. Yes your copy is shared, editors might know you did the deed.

DRM and e-book piracy

Piracy has never been so prevalent in the digital age. Although the term is widely associated with music and movies, piracy also extends to e-books. In fact, American publishers lose $ 300 million a year from e-book piracy. What some sophisticated readers do is use sophisticated tools to “crack” the DRM of eBook files and profit from them, which is illegal.

But while DRM is the only robust protection against unauthorized copying and distribution of copyrighted works, it sometimes backfires.

“DRM is an incentive to pirate content,” author Kate Sheehan wrote in her book. The eBook Revolution: An Introduction for Frontline Librarians in which she cites a study. Content protection provider Viaccess Ocra also agrees: “One of the most effective ways to combat piracy is to remove the incentive for consumers to search for pirated content,” they wrote on their blog. .

How to own your ebooks without touching piracy

The easiest way to really own your ebooks is to buy DRM-free ones. Many independent publishers are now open to publishing e-books without the said technology. The independent platform Smashwords and sometimes Kobo sells them as well. Classics in digital format produced by Project Gutenberg are still DRM-free.

When you download ebooks from the aforementioned platforms, you keep the files even after you modify or lose your devices. This is real property in the digital sense.

Another option is… not to buy ebooks at all, which might not be an option for some. But until we get some innovative form of security that satisfies both parties – the publisher and the reader – we’re stuck with good ol ‘DRM.