There seems to never be an end to the aim to protect digital media. In the early days of DVDs, there was software built into disks that prevented copying them to other media. 1 In the early days of eBooks, convoluted DRM schemes kept titles bound to specific devices.
As a result, I still hold on to my first-generation Sony eReader – some of the books I own are only readable on that particular device.
I’ve also dabbled in the publishing world, so keeping an eye on the birth and evolution of digital rights management has been very interesting. This year, though, my mind has been on DRM more frequently than I expected.
I started a publishing company in 2007 because I had the lofty goal of writing and publishing my own book. In the past several years, I’ve published 4 titles under my own imprint – none of them written by me. I’ve also edited and contributed to several other titles, again, though, none authored by me.
I still write on a daily basis, and the long-term objective of writing and publishing a work of my own hasn’t waned at all. It’s just the market into which I’d be releasing it that’s changed.
We’re down to just a handful of brick-and-mortar booksellers, so most titles these days are released as both printed and digital editions to leverage the ubiquity of Amazon and electronic consumption. I’m not opposed to distributing my work electronically – considering you’re reading my blog on an electronic device that should be obvious – I just want a way to protect my copyright.
One avenue into which I haven’t looked thus far is the idea of streaming digital content to readers. With a stream, the content never really lives on the client device. It lives on your hosted server and is piped in realtime to an application over which you wield control.
You control the encoding, you control the client-side storage, you control the experience. On the surface, it feels like the optimum situation for delivering digital content in a safe-for-copyright manner.
Actually, Amazon is already working on ebook streaming.
As a reader, though, this feels like a crappy solution. I enjoy reading books because I can disconnect from the world and dive into a universe crafted by a talented author. I don’t want to be connected to an online service to read. I don’t want a gatekeeper somewhere making the decision about whether or not I can access a book today – with or without ads – or controlling the rate at which I pull down content.
My biggest fear, as a reader, is that Amazon (or whoever hosts a content streaming service) won’t be around in the future. As the holders of the keys to content I’ve purchased, their disappearance means I lose access to these titles, characters, and worlds I’ve paid good money for.
It raises the question of what exactly we buy when we turn over cash for a book. Do we buy unlimited access to that title, even if the actual content is physically owned by a third party? Do we own a discrete copy of that content?
These are questions I need to answer before either publishing my work (I have a lot of content ready to be released) or before I even engage in my next 3rd-party publication project.