16 April 2008

Format is not destiny.

A brief follow-up to yesterday's post -- I truly believe the problem with e-book DRM which led to my frustration is not simply the library "out to get me." I have been a NY Public Library cardholder for four years and I'm sure they had the best of intentions in offering the Adobe-formatted e-books they do. In theory, it is a great idea! In the same way, Adobe had good intentions in designing Digital Editions to look more "booklike" (you can turn pages in a document as well as scroll like an ordinary doc) and in requiring what to my mind was an extraneous login for it.

And then there are the major players I didn't mention in yesterday's entry, the publishing houses. Publishers have a vested interest in maintaining the copyrights of their works, and I respect that not every house is willing to go the BEAUTIFUL CHILDREN route for every book. They have paid for those rights and they want to preserve them while still giving customers a new method through which to read those books.

At the same time, when all these well-intentioned players got together with their lists of requirements and desires, something was lost -- the voice of the end user. I consider myself at least somewhat computer savvy, having used PCs and Macs (and currently owning both), but I'm guessing I spent 45 minutes trying to e-check out my e-book, and several times I thought I might just scrap it entirely.

Digital DRM is a minefield, and certainly there have been way more egregious uses of it (I'm thinking of Sony's CD rootkits which were sneakily installed onto listeners' computers specifically). But the idea that the customer ought to be willing to jump through a bunch of hoops to prove that she is "legitimate" or not a pirate makes no sense.

To use a probably faulty simile, it's like that old 2nd-grade discipline trick where, if one kid is talking, everyone in the classroom has to put their heads down and be quiet instead of going out for recess. Has that ever actually stopped anyone from behaving badly? (If you are an elementary-school teacher reading this, please explain to me why this is thought to work.) All it does is embitter the good kids, in this case the legitimate users. I'm not willing yet to throw up my hands and say "Well, I guess that one kid did ruin it for everyone."

I think I've said my piece, but I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments or by e-mail (lnvsml AT gmail.com). Stay tuned today for my review of Ben Mezrich's BRINGING DOWN THE HOUSE and its filmic adaptation "21."

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