Can ebooks beat the piracy threat?
Publishers are battling over the use of DRM to stop piracy, but is it the right road to take?
Earlier this year, science fiction publisher Tor dropped DRM from all its books – a move that other publishers aren’t happy with. In response, publisher Hachette has ordered authors that are distributed by both firms to ensure their books are covered by DRM globally, so pirated copies from one region don’t hurt sales in another.
The disagreement suggests the industry is still struggling to come to grips with the switch to the digital era, and the potential downsides.
Ebooks have been a huge success for Amazon, and other online outlets, with consumer sales growing 366% in the UK in the last year to make up the equivalent of 6% of consumer sales of the £2.3bn market. But piracy remains, and the ensuing DRM and a block on lending have led to consumer frustration.
We asked Publishers Association CEO Richard Mollet how the industry would tackle the issue.
Q. Is DRM really a useful tool for the publishing industry?
A. Clearly DRM is one of a number of tools you can use to minimise the impact of copyright infringement. It’s still the case that it’s used by most of the publishers because they do see it as one of the key tools, but it would be wrong to say it’s the only tool.
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You need more than just technical measures to prevent infringement. You also need strong legal services so people don’t need to infringe in the first place, you need strong education about the importance of copyright. You also need enforcement measures – which can be DRM but also going throught the legal system.
Q. Isn’t the drawback with ebook DRM that it works well in the tech ecosystem but is undone by people scanning and posting copies of physical books?
A. There’s some of that. It’s hard to say with any accuracy what percentage of the online infringement problem we see is scanned and what is copies of digital files, but certainly there’s a huge amount of the latter. There is a large number of sites where digital files are copied, but I wouldn’t want to put a figure on it.
It isn’t fair to say “there’s no point in having DRM because most of it is scanning,” because I don’t think that is the case. That said, the problem of physical infringement is still great, especially in international markets.
Q. The music and film industries have been taking down sites and seeking injunctions against Pirate Bay and download sites. Is that something the publishing industry is contemplating?
A. We’ve not been as prolific as those industries in bringing those kinds of cases and I guess that’s because they encountered the problem of online infringement before we did. But we have been involved in some cases – one in Scotland, it was led by the BPI, but we joined in because the CDs being sent out also included ebooks.
We also contributed to the case against Newzbin2 when it was in the High Court. We support those actions where we can because it’s vital that where people are clearly engaging in criminal enterprises against the copyright industry that they should be brought to book, but the Publishers Association hasn’t brought a single case to date.
Q. You wouldn’t rule it out in the future?
A. I wouldn’t want our focus to be on enforcement and taking people to court – publishing has got a very successful story to tell with its legal digital market and incredible growth. If you get content right then the need for enforcement action should reduce. That’s not to say that where necessary we won’t support actions and we might even lead them, but I wouldn’t want that to be our focus. I don’t think it will need to be.