Tor/Forge e-Books Will Be DRM-Free in July 2012

Geek Culture

Today, Tom Doherty Associates –publishers of Tor, Forge, Orb, Starscape, and Tor Teen– announced that all of their e-book titles will become DRM-free by early July 2012. This change will not affect where titles are currently sold. In addition, Tom Doherty Associates is also hoping to sell titles through retailers who only sell DRM-free e-books.

You can read the full announcement here.

My first reaction was that I want to hug them for this decision.

As a consumer, I have made the decision to refuse to purchase anything that has DRM attached to it. Why?

First, let me try to explain what DRM is and why it is so controversial. Digital rights management, or DRM, and sometimes referred to as a digital lock, is a way for copyright holders to limit the use of digital products after they are sold. The type of limits vary. Some DRM allows a user to keep only one copy, while others allow a specific number of copies to be made or downloaded.

In some situations, these limits do not pose too much of an issue. Recently, I received a couple of e-books as a gift. The DRM on those books limits my use to five devices. At the moment, I cannot see myself using all five copies. Currently, I only have three devices that they can be read on. But what if one of my devices is no longer supported or becomes obsolete, or if they get damaged and I have a legitimate use for more than five copies? What if the retailer where the books were originally purchased goes out of business? Despite owning the book, I am out of luck. This issue becomes even greater if the DRM allows for only one copy. I only own that book for as long as the device the book is on is working and is supported. I don’t consider that owning the book. In my mind, I am just borrowing it for as long as the functionality of the eReader or retailer allows. With a physical version of the book, I am not limited to how or where I read it.

Then there is the issue of lending the book to a friend. A lot of people are introduced to a new writer because they borrowed a book from a friend. Some people donate their books to shelters or libraries after they are done reading. Physical books get passed on. Last year, when being interviewed about copyright and online piracy, Neil Gaiman talked about how a lot of people discover their favorite authors through borrowing. DRM limits this.

For some consumers, these limits are not an issue. They are more than happy to accumulate loads of books, taking up storage, even if they never read them again. Then there are people like me who rarely read a book twice. Sometimes, I’ll keep a book. When I keep a book, it is because I either like the design of a book or reading it gave me such pleasure, I can’t bring myself to part with it, even if I never read it again. Other times, I give the book to a friend or donate them to a shelter. The books I decide to keep are the ones that I most want to lend to a friend. But because of DRM, I am not free to do this, so I don’t purchase the title in electronic format.

Then we come to the issue of creating a back-up of digital content. In Canada, we have regulations that allow us to create copies of the content we purchase. There are limits, such as it must be for personal use. Every time Canadians purchase an electronic storage device–mp3 player, DVD-R, CD-R, etc.–they are charged a hidden fee. That hidden fee goes to record labels and copyright holders to compensate them for revenue lost via legitimate copying of digital material for personal use.

I have objections to giving my money to copyright holders for something that they are trying to prevent me from doing: making legitimate back-ups of material I purchased. I do not know if there is similar hidden fee in other countries. However, even if I were not already being charged for making a copy that I may never make, I’d have issue with not being able to legitimately make a copy, in the event that something happens to the original.

However, DRM is not all bad. There are situations where I feel using DRM is warranted, such as online rentals of digital material. In those situations, you are only paying to have access to that content for a specified amount of time. I am also okay with DRM attached to review copies of e-books and videogames. I am not paying for the book or the videogame. In some situations, when reviewing a physical product, the company requires that you return the product when the review is done.

But when it comes to purchases, DRM tends to punish the legitimate user. It can, but not always, greatly limit how a consumer is able to enjoy the product. If I wanted my use to be limited, I’d rent the game or movie, borrow the book or game from the library, or listen to the song on the radio.

Those who want to pirate content will always find a way to circumvent DRM.

So, I want to thank Tom Doherty Associates for their decision to make their e-book titles DRM-free. They have just gained a consumer of their e-books.

Tor author John Scalzi has shared his own thoughts on today’s news.


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