Electronic Books and the Canadian DMCA

Sara Bannerman has an important post that notes how the growing importance of electronic books has particularly implications for the forthcoming copyright bill.  As devices such as the Kindle and iPad become increasingly popular, more and more people with purchase their books electronically with DRM included.  As Bannerman notes:

For many books, and especially academic ones, the price for the ebook is the same (sometimes hundreds of dollars) as it was for the print edition. Canadians shouldn't live in a world of expiring and disappearing books. Consumers should have the right to use books the way they're used to doing – to buy them and have them for life, and to use them for years to come on future generations of devices.

Bannerman's concerns are highlighted in this video created at the Vancouver Film School, which recently won the school's award for public enlightenment.  Note that most of the debate around copyright reform does not argue against the use of all DRM.  Rather, it focuses on the need for balance in the implementation of legal protection for DRM, by arguing that existing exceptions (described by the Supreme Court of Canada as "user rights") should remain effective even where a publisher has implemented a restrictive DRM system.


  1. cndcitizen says:

    Wow – That video was very well done and too the point.
    I have over 7000 books in my collection, if someone came into my house and took my books off the shelf that I paid for then I would be charging them with theft. I guess after you download a book you will need to break the DRM so that they will not be able to pull them off your shelf anymore….so in a sense they are making everyone criminals by adding DRM.

    Wow, are we going backwards in this age?

  2. iPad Critic says:

    Apple and Academic Publshers are drooling at the idea of eliminating used books stores
    From the launch day of the iPad I could see that Apple and Academic Publishers were planning to eliminate the university used book store in 4 years. I can see backroom deals with Universities and Professors. Expect to see some universities to announce that all students will be given or expected to buy an iPad in September. Texts will be between 80%-100% of the print price, they will be non-transferable, and there will be a different edition in course syllabuses every year.

    If students see this in Canada, they should start asking what kinds of kickbacks Universities and professors are getting. I love the technology behind the iPad, and I hope I’ll be able to use it some day, but it just breaks my heart to see it being used to exploit people.

  3. Russell McOrmond says:

    Neat video, but not factually correct.
    This suggests that “publishers” have the keys to DRM. This isn’t fully correct. There are two sets of keys:

    * keys to a lock on the content which makes the content only able to be opened on brands of devices that are authorised by the publishers. The publishers give the unlocking keys to device manufacturers, or more often the device manufacturers provide locking keys to publishers.

    * keys to a lock on the devices themselves, where these keys are held by the device manufacturer.

    The restrictions discussed are not under the control of the publisher, but the device manufacturer. The device manufacturer may have a contractual arrangement with a publisher to control the content in ways that the publisher wants, but ultimately all the actual control is in the hands of the device manufacturers.

    The content, locked or not, has no ability to “make decisions” any more than a paperback book has the ability to read itself out loud. All the logic of what does or does not happen with a device is encoded in software, and under a DRM system that software is imposed by the device manufacturer.

    This is a problem in this debate — much of it is based on science fiction, not science.

    I strongly disagree with those who think that the specifics of the rules desired by publishers matter. Even if not a single piece of content had DRM on it, but our devices did, the actual harm would be the same. Once we legalise or legally protect non-owner locks on our devices, the harm is already done — regardless of anything that can be confused as being related to “Copyright” or publishers.

  4. Michael Leamy says:

    An eloquent assessment of our current reality.
    I have been using almost the same example to explain why this issue is important. A well done video indeed.

  5. strunk&white says:

    Good lord — a gun, ominous music, an impenetrable safe?

    Is it possible to make an argument against DRM without ridiculous hyperbole?

    I just bought me a Kobo, and while the salesperson was holding a revolver to my head he explained that it runs PDFs and e-Pub files, and that a family-sharing function was in the works for books I purchase through Kobo. Then of course he pulled the trigger and chained my lifeless corpse into an Orwellian safe.

    Sensationalism much?

  6. Maupassant says:

    Believe me the professors are not in on this deal. Most will be upset by it. Every professor spent a long time as a student (obviously) and understands well the value of the used book store.

    DRM is a fundamentally bad idea. Over the years everything protected by DRM eventually vanishes. You paid for it? Tough. As for me, I’ll take mine in paper, please.

  7. Russell McOrmond says:

    Additional comments.
    Maupassant said: “Believe me the professors are not in on this deal.”

    Professors are in on this deal as much as publishers are. The Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) is actively involved in Access Copyright, one of the many pro-DRM lobby groups alleging to be protecting the interest of authors and publishers. That said, both publishers and university teachers (as authors) aren’t the ones holding the relevant keys to DRM systems.

    strunk&white said: “Is it possible to make an argument against DRM without ridiculous hyperbole?”

    I think this type of message is far less ridiculous than the “you wouldn’t steal a purse” nonsense that some copyright holders were using. Given that context, this video has an appropriate tone.

    The reality is that copyright infringement isn’t remotely like theft. The closest analogy between copyright infringement and tangible property is trespass, and even there it is a distant analogy.

    On the other hand, non-owner locks on devices, a key component to a DRM system, is a far closer analogy to theft. So, who are the thieves in the debate? Is it inappropriate to be firmly against theft, especially people and corporations who want to build business models on top of this form of theft?

    Questions in DRM debate: what is locked, who owns it, who has keys

  8. DRM and ebooks
    I own an ebook reader that I absolutely love. I won’t say the brand, but it has a touch screen and supports most ebook formats. The latter is the main reason I chose this particular model.

    The first thing I do when I buy an ebook is to remove the DRM. If the ebook is sold in a format that I cannot remove the DRM from, I won’t buy it. After removing the DRM, I convert the format to epub and make a backup of the file. I don’t share the file, I just want to make sure that I can keep it and use it on any future devices I may buy. If they take away my ability to do that, I won’t buy any more ebooks.

    DRM is just stupid.

  9. “DRM is just stupid.”
    No question about it. The fact that it can be misused (such as to enforce region blocking on DVDs, something that has absolutely nothing to do with copyright enforcement) is just icing on the cake.

  10. Students be Wary
    Working for a university, I know first hand that students, especially grad, doctoral, and post-doctoral students, should be EXTREMELY worried about this. Putting time limits and expiries on books could greatly hamper research, which for some can take years to complete. Limits and expiries don’t protect intelectual property, people will find ways to circumvent it, this eminates of pure and simple GREED!!!!

  11. …also…
    BTW, this is such a concern, that the president of our university sent out a global staff e-mail to all staff in the university airing concerns about this.

  12. rip hack and burn says:

    “For many books, and especially academic ones, the price for the ebook is the same (sometimes hundreds of dollars) as it was for the print edition.”

    which is just a massive rip off. a ‘normal’ approach is to reduce the price when the cost of production and distribution drops so drastically. this is typical of the entertainment and publishing industries where the price is ‘ what we think we can get’ because we are a pigopoly

  13. drm in academia
    I recall early versions of digital textbooks which were made available for rent one term at a time . The early versions had a helpful note taking feature which would disappear with the book. Hope they fixed that:)

    Academics should be aware of the privacy implications of DRM.

    Along with the publishers ability to learn the email address of every Canadian graduating in a particular discipline ( based on registration for DRM based required texts) apparently Amazon now knows and shares the most frequently underlined passages of kindle books. Interesting social networking potential with some unintended consequences.

  14. cndcitizen says:

    Russell McOrmond said:
    Neat video, but not factually correct.
    This suggests that “publishers” have the keys to DRM. This isn’t fully correct. There are two sets of keys:

    Your long explanation doesn’t really hold water. DRM can expire a book after 2 hours or in 2 years it is up to the publishers. You would not know until you wanted to reference it that it was expired. Currently they say they don’t do that, but look at the wipe from apple last month with their new iPhone 4g. I can understand them doing that but wow the power that you are giving private corporations that you don”t know who works for. If systems like iPad and Kindle can remotely wipe or create a dead man switch to saw at this date if you don’t get a license refresh then delete this content from the devide then we have an issue. I am all for ease of distribution to lower the publishers costs, but if I don’t have something permanent that I can reference in the future or to pass on to my kids to review about this age, then it will not be purchased.

    I still like the printed book better.

  15. Pickles Bill says:

    I had a chuckle seeing Captain Copyright reveal his secret identity in that video.. Captain DRM.

    Fun video.

  16. Award for public enlightenment?
    Award for “public enlightenment”? That’s pretty funny. The video is a satirical ‘shot’ at folks who would have us believe that cultural works stand to be absolutely locked-down or lost if it is made illegal to tamper with DRM, no?