The February shut-down of two $10 million rogue websites in Ireland by an alliance of international publishers spotlighted the uptake in e-publishing piracy. Companies are challenged to balance the interests of publishers, authors, e-retailers, and others with the public’s growing love affair with portable e-reading. We’ve examined some of the security measures, new developments and efforts to create more open, interoperable e-reading experiences.
PIRACY V ANONYMITY
With the rapid growth of e-publishing, it is not surprising that digital media hackers and pirates have turned their attention to the lucrative e-book market. Like their music and video industry counterparts, publishers, retailers and producers of software and e-reading devices have sought ways to safeguard their products and protect the rights of authors. While there has been some discussion regarding the best approaches, nearly all e-books have some form of digital rights management (DRM) protection as well as other content security solutions.
DRM was designed to protect authors and other copyright owners from loss of value or revenue by limiting what can be done with an e- book. Unlike printed books, which you own and are free to share, gift, donate, or sell, an e-book user buys a licence to use the book on one or a limited number of devices. DRM prevents unauthorized usage or distribution to other users or devices. It is considered one of the first lines of defence against piracy. DRM encryptions used by various retailers are designed for their own devices, which is why an e-book purchased through Amazon can only be used on a Kindle, not a Nook, and vice versa.
While most publishers incorporate DRM in their e-book formatting, many are considering whether to keep it on e-books or drop it, as the music industry did five years ago. Although file protection is needed, there is always someone who can hack into or circumvent DRM encryptions to access and illegally obtain digital content. On the other hand, DRM has helped to create and protect merchandize silos that limit consumer choice and the portability of e-books from one platform or device to another.
“At Perseus, we feel we have to require DRM on our e-books,” says Bill Smith, Director of Digital Partner Development for its Constellation Digital Services division. “We provide our client publishers’ title files to re-sellers who agree to incorporate DRM protection. Additional software provides protection and insurance of legitimate end use.” He cites digital services that apply watermarks or DRM to galleys to prevent illegal distribution prior to publishing.
Brian Felsen, President of BookBaby, a leader in the independent e-distribution/e- publishing arena, offers another perspective. “In the e-book conversion experience, we don’t see DRM as being important since our authors’ work is distributed across many diverse platforms. However, DRM is part of our offering. Authors can choose it or not; some of our retail partners require it, and some do not.”
Felsen believes that DRM implementation can be complicated and limiting. If a company puts a lock on its device, it is ultimately not for the benefit of consumers who are looking for accessibility. “If DRM could be incorporated so that the work was protected, yet buyers were not limited to a single platform, it could be a good thing. That said, if anyone is going to steal something, DRM will not stop them. They will figure out a way around it. Besides, for new authors, anonymity is a worse fate than piracy. An open environment with easy consumer access through all platforms would be ideal.”
MORALITY NOT MANAGEMENT
he efficacy of DRM was discussed at January’s Digital Book World Conference in New York where Matteo Berlucchi, CEO of Anobii, addressed attendees. He contends that DRM does not prevent piracy. “You have to educate the public to fight piracy and prosecute criminals in court to achieve real deterrence. That is not to say that we should not protect e-books, but there is a right way. There are protective measures that allow traceability to the e-book’s source, but that do not impede readers who want to access digital content across various devices or share with people they know.”
Berlucchi promotes the concept of Digital Rights Morality, not Management, which emphasizes right choices instead of digital rights. “While DRM is viable in the lending library environment as a way to monitor usage, for other purposes it should be removed. You should put a lighter layer of protection on e-books as a reminder,” he asserts.
One solution is to watermark downloadable e- books with the buyer’s personal information invisibly embedded in the file and visibly appearing on each page (This e-book is the property of...). Another is the licence-based model, similar to computer games where you need a key to unlock a file to access content. There are also cloud-based approaches. “If you are reading on a device through an app, that app content is connected to the cloud,” Berlucchi adds. “Like a cloud-based lending library, a company can provide protected access to the file, which is not downloadable.”
Berlucchi’s proposed model would benefit all stakeholders and provide a truly interoperable solution that fosters competition and innovation. Content producers would be able to monitor the distribution of e-books, while illegal usage could be traced and discouraged.
The establishment of inter-operable standards is one of the goals of the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF), a consortium of 300 companies in 30 countries that track digital publishing globally. According to IDPF Executive Director Bill McCoy, “We had hoped that publishers would abandon DRM, but that did not happen. Today 99% of e-books have some DRM, the most popular of which is Adobe Content Server. Companies like Apple and Amazon have their own DRM-based software. There is a debate on whether a strong or weak DRM experience would be best. There are disadvantages either way. Vendors want to make DRM stronger to protect their products; consumers want more accessibility.”
In the meantime, companies are exploring other ways to secure e-book content. John Beaton, Senior Product Manager at Irdeto, a global software security firm, contends that there is some confusion between DRM and content security. “DRM is not intended to provide industrial strength content security. It is about managing the rights required by business models and managing the rights of consumers to access digital material through those models.”
Irdeto takes a holistic approach for content protection. In October 2011, the company launched an expansion of its ActiveCloak content security solution to e-Publishing, refining it to work with ePub3 and HTML5 upgrades. ActiveCloak for ePublishing is designed to be both a reactive reduction and proactive prevention tool to deter e- piracy. “The Archilles heel has been the details of implementation for anti-pirating solutions,” says Beaton. “We work with customers to customize and activate ActiveCloak. We make it extremely difficult to hack in, with protection that is invisible to the end user.” Irdeto has the means to mitigate the impact of piracy once it happens.
“There’s no 100% piracy protection solution. If you give hackers and pirates enough time, they will find a way through DRM and other security software, so being able to dynamically update security in the field is a key capability. For content that is leaked, our Irdeto Intelligence solution is designed to identify and take down piracy, removing links from search engines to reduce impact.”
Perseus’ Smith cites other companies, such as Attributor, used by publishers to track illegal e-book activity on websites, blogs and browsers. “Publishers take piracy seriously,” Smith asserts. “Though you can’t presume that 12,000 illegal e- book downloads of a title equate to 12,000 potential purchases, it can still represent significant lost sales. As publishers, we have to send a signal that we value intellectual property.”
Attributor’s Guardian solution provides an end-to-end service that includes ‘web crawlers’ that search the internet to discover and verify illegal users and an integrated process for removal and compliance monitoring.
Because publishers’ core expertise is in creating compelling content, innovative technology is largely in the hands of software and hardware developers. According to Felsen, “Technology is being driven by the big retailers because of their scale. Apple has sold more OS software than anyone, and has in recent months launched iBook 2 for iPad, iBook Author and the new iPad HD tablet. Amazon’s Kindle is supported by its proprietary KF8 software. Baker & Taylor launched its Axis 360 enhanced digital media service with interactive Blio software. Other retailers may not have the money or the core competencies to innovate.”
That’s where a consortium like the IDPF comes in. “Our job is to inform, reward innovation and empower standardization,” says McCoy. “Last year, we introduced an enhanced web-based upgrade of the ePub software, ePub3, that is a good candidate to become the industry standard.”