One of the first Australian ebooks I ever purchased legitimately through an Australian e-tailer was The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas. And in order to read it I had to crack the DRM. DRM (digital rights management) is the extra bit of software attached to ebooks to stop people from copying digital products as they like. It’s a divisive issue, but it is at the centre of publishing ebooks in Australia.
At the time it was the only place I could find this book electronically (legitimately – there were plenty of pirated copies floating about). I was about to travel overseas with my Kindle and wanted to bring it with me without carrying the whole book. The book was sold as PDF with DRM by Adobe. Before I bought the book I googled whether it would be possible to crack the DRM, as I knew my iPhone and Kindle were not capable of reading the DRM on a PDF. There are thousands of people around the world interested in this kind of thing, so it took only a few minutes before I’d downloaded the software, downloaded the book and had cracked it using the software. These kinds of cracking programs pop up with different software authors every few months before getting shut down and then reopening somewhere else. They’re very difficult to stop, and I believe that as long as there is DRM there will be people willing to spend time and effort cracking it and making it available on the internet. From what I’ve read there is not a single major type of DRM that has not been cracked (the DRM used on the iPad is the only one that I haven’t seen a crack for – but I’m sure the situation is temporary).
All in all this is not something the average internet user would be bothered doing. Instead, they just wouldn’t buy the book at all. The current crop of people who read ebooks in Australia don’t significantly overlap with readers of paper books. If I want a book electronically, I either get it electronically or not at all.
The cracking process wasn’t difficult, but it helped to know a bit about the ins and outs of ebook formats and computers in general. However, the longer ebooks are available, and the more ubiquitous ebook readers become, the more readily available and easy-to-use these types of software packages will become. DRM generally makes early adopters pretty angry with publishers and record labels, because it makes the process unnecessarily difficult for legitimate purchasers. In general it is far easier to download a pre-cracked pirated version of a book than it is to crack the DRM on a legitimate purchase. DRM tends to push early adopters towards the easiest option – which in this case happens to be illegal.
I prefer to buy legitimate copies of books, because they tend to be formatted and typeset properly, unlike the scanned and digitised copies you are likely to see on pirate book websites. The care and attention given to them is (or should be) equal to a published book, and it pays off while you’re reading. However, I’m increasingly frustrated by DRM. Most of the people I know reading ebooks are doing so on their iPhone, their Kindle or their Sony Reader. Out of these three dominant readers (likely to be followed by the iPad shortly), very few Australian publishers support files readable on any of these devices. This type of scattered support is very frustrating for readers of ebooks – no publisher is ever going to be capable of covering every version of ebook format with DRM that can be read by every type of ebook reader. However, if books were sold without DRM in the first place, legitimate buyers of ebooks would be able to easily convert the book to the format of their choice – with the added benefit that the book would be ‘future proof’ (most types of current DRM will eventually become defunct and render reading of the copy-proof versions impossible).
Australian ebooks are currently sold at the same price as their paper counterparts. This is an economic decision I understand, but when you take into account how crippled the formats that are sold actually are, it is little wonder legitimate ebooks are selling so slowly.
What do you think? Have you ever cracked the DRM on an ebook? Does DRM turn you off purchasing ebooks? Are you willing to break the law in order to truly own a book you have paid for?