How Adobe DRM Requires People to Pirate Library Books

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drmIn case you missed it, March 28th was Document Freedom day.

The goal of the day was to spread awareness about the increasing need to adopt an open standard for public as well and privately held documents. The e-book industry is one which is in dire need of such a standard. Currently, ebooks are often protected with DRM, which has become famous for causing problems for the customers who pay for those ebooks.

Actor, writer and the recent hero to a Hobbit themed pub, Stephen Fry, is quoted at the Document Freedom Day website saying, “Open standards make sense. What makes no sense is that large companies in the field still do not understand this. It is time once and for all to end the pointless nonsense of one document sent on one platform being incomprehensible to the user of another.”

Having purchased a Nook Tablet a few days prior, the timing of this awareness day was quite relevant to my current interests. Since freshly rooting my tablet, my attention has been very much oriented on acquiring new e-books and reading the old e-books that had been getting stale on my PC.

Luckily many libraries are now offering a service for “loaning” ebooks. So I can easily borrow e-books to read on my new device, right? Wrong. Very wrong.

It turns out that a majority of the 6,495 titles available at my local library were accessible only through a locked .acsm file format. The open alternative had 49 titles available at the time. That is about as many as fit on just one of the small book shelves I’m sitting near as I type this.

What is a .acsm file anyway? If you understand how a .torrent file works you can think of a .acsm file as being very much like a .torrent file. If you use Windows or Mac, you can (theoretically) download and install Adobe Digital Editions (ADE). This software reads the .acsm file and then it will download the actual .epub book, complete with DRM. With me so far?

Before the .acsm file downloads the e-book (which you either paid for or used your library card to borrow against your good name) you must create an account with Adobe and log in. The stated reason had something to do with your assumed guilt should anything you download escape into the open internet. At which point, the copyright owner of the content will hunt you down and take severe legal action. But wait, there’s more!

Say you have a device you wish to read your e-book on. ADE must to connect to and authorize your device and handle transferring the book to that device. What happens if it failed to recognize your device? What happens if any step along the way fails? If Adobe has their way, you are out of luck.

Keep in mind that “device” includes the computer you are running ADE on. So what happens when you use a linux based operating system that ADE does not support? Then you are stuck with a useless .acsm file and can not download the actual content you either borrowed or paid for.

It requires a lot of tedious steps to access content that should normally be very simple to access. In the end, the only civilized way to access the content is to, remove the DRM. In other words, there is no legal way to access the content without breaking the law if you are using free (libre) software.

According to Adobe’s licensing terms, moving the e-book from one device to another is not acceptable unless Adobe authorizes each device. Not that they are offering you an opportunity to obey the law of Adobe. Go ahead and try opening a DRM e-book in an e-book reader or on a device that isn’t made by Adobe and the extent of your reading with be a short error saying the user is not activated.

Should you manage to find a way to run ADE on a linux based operating system, the software still doesn’t want to connect to other devices, such as an e-book reader. Without authorization, you have three options including not reading the book you borrowed (meanwhile, nobody else can borrow that title from your library for 14 days), you may break the DRM using available scripts for doing so or you can download a DRM free pirated version.

Oddly, downloading a pirated version does not seem to make the reader vulnerable to the same severe legal risks as breaking DRM does. Between that and being held accountable for any copy that may be made from your DRM laden e-book, downloading a pirated copy seems to be the ‘most legal’ method of accessing a given book in a situation where there is a sever lack of clear legal options.

“We are committed to providing easy access to books and information for all ages, through responsive professionals, engaging programs, and state-of-the-art technology in a safe and friendly environment.” says my local library

After inquiring with a few of the staff members, it was uncovered that the option of whether or not to provide ebooks in an open or closed format to the library is left up to the publishers. Should community libraries committed to providing easy access to books then accept into their system a format dedicated to making access as difficult as possible?

Ryan Smith, aka Green Pirate.

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