Thursday, 7 April 2011

Borders/Sony complaint

Digital Rights Management, or DRM has to be one of the worst things in the known universe. Sony have a somewhat idiotic history on this front, having intentionally been complicit in the installation of malware in the form of rootkits.

The worst thing about it is that it has nothing to do with copyright protection. Oh no, it goes much further to essentially stymie fair use of copyrighted works. And you probably already know that copyright owners themselves are generally a few thousand nautical miles removed from the actual artists who create the works in question. The owners of copyrights are generally record companies, publishing houses, movie studios.

Copyright owners argue that piracy robs artists of royalty revenue. I tend to sympathise with the piracy crowd who maintain that copyright owners have already done the theft with grossly unconscionable contracts that assigns copyright ownership to them for very little in return for the authors or musicians who create the works. Having said that, I'm a sad old dude who insists on buying CDs for the packaging.

I recently bought a Sony Reader from Angus & Robertson, part of the RED Group along with Borders which is presently in administration. I bought it because Ebook Readers are cool - they have really cool e-ink screens that probably use less power than a digital watch. I bought it because I always liked Douglas Adams' Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy and think that electronic books are a really neat idea. But I also bought it because my course notes are only available in ebook form this semester, and having ownership of that neat idea that is an e-ink powered reader as a tax-deductible expense is pretty goddamn attractive.

And I certainly wasn't going to be buying a Kindle from Amazon: I've done wonderfully this far in my life to avoid the commercial rape that Apple's customers seem to love in an almost masochistic way, so it would be hypocritical in the extreme if I'd settled for Amazon's identical marketing model.

Sony's Reader line supports almost every format there is, it doesn't lock you in to a single provider of content, and it works beautifully. I'm also slowly starting to like the touchscreen page-turns as well, although I still use the buttons at the bottom a bit. But Sony are so totally in love with DRM it's almost weird.

I suspect that I'll also be buying books for the packaging after this tale. I sent this to Borders:


I purchased an ebook last night - Na-Joon Chang's "23 Things They Don't Tell You About Capitalism" - which I thought I'd buy, having started reading a borrowed copy of a friends and finding the contents quite addictive.

You will have to forgive me, as this is the first ebook I've purchased, having purchased my ebook reader originally to read my uni course notes. Naturally, having bought my reader from your affiliate Angus & Robertson, and knowing that you also sell the Sony Reader, I figured that this would be nice and simple.

I would firstly like to advise that simple, it is not. Firstly, as a Linux user, having to put my purchase through Adobe's Digital Editions is nothing short of frustrating, but despite Adobe's attempts to have everyone using Windows or Macs and nothing else, I succeeded. So first issue was defused, no thanks to Adobe.

From here, normally, things are a piece of cake. I've downloaded many a fine book from Project Gutenberg, which must be a bit hard to hear, given that you're in the business of profiting (or not - I'm aware of your current financial difficulties) from the sale of intellectual property that's in the public domain. Usually, when I move a book over to my Reader, I can then mosey off to my comfy chair in front of the TV, ignoring whatever cr@p is on TV and listening to a nice CD or two, many of which I've purchased from your establishment. I'm pretty sure that I purchased Sleater-Kinney's "The Woods" album from you which is both on high rotation on my CD player at the moment and a totally kick-@rse example of riot grrl rock and roll.

But we are discussing other electronic media at the moment. Ones that I am having extreme difficulty playing, unlike my CD example which I can happily play at home, in the car, at a mate's place or no my PC at work.

In case you haven't worked out by now, sitting in my comfy chair, Reader in hand, Sleater-Kinney turned up to maybe 3 (it was late and I didn't want my neighbours to complain), I turned on my Reader and clicked on my purchase and was greeted in big friendly lettering, "Protected by Digital Rights Management".

I notice that this has been an issue with Sony Readers, so I downloaded new firmware from Sony which apparently fixes this problem, but it did not. In desperation, I rebooted my computer and went to my dreaded Windows partition to try copying it from there. No luck.

Rest assured that I will be sending a similar email to Sony explaining the problem to them, however, my complaint comes down to a single cause: Digital Rights Management. This could very easily be fixed if you were to provide me with a non-DRM protected copy of this book. You might well complain that the publisher won't let you have one, but frankly, the way that I see this, if I can't open the thing up on my Sony Reader, you've sold me defective merchandise, and the defect can be none other than the DRM that is there.

I look forward to hearing your response on the issue.

Yours sincerely,

Then I did a couple of minor tweaks and sent it off to Sony.

It'll be interesting to see if I get a response.

Edit 7 April 2011, 13:48:

I just noticed in my email inbox that this is being looked at by Kobo. OK, I know that Borders/A&R are in bed with Kobo, but this is a bit ridiculous, given that my reader is a Sony. I may have to resend this.

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