Harper Collins is employing a new watermarking DRM scheme, so they can tell where their pirated e-books are being sourced from. There are so many levels of dumb and brilliant here that it’s impossible to make a judgement, not without knowing the motivations of those involved.
If the idea is to actually stop piracy, the program is dumb as a bag of rocks with chains wrapped around it held fast by a bevy of padlocks. This won’t stop piracy. And it isn’t like piracy is even a concern. The music industry learned this (mostly and eventually). It takes a few clicks to stirp an ebook of its DRM. It’ll probably take an extra click or two to get rid of the watermark. Really, the only way to make a tamper-proof watermark would be to alter the formatting or content slightly for every outlet you upload to.
So how could this program be brilliant? Well, if it’s a scheme by the DRM manufacturer to make millions of dollars by selling snake oil to fearful publishers, it’s ingenious. I would think the engineers behind this are savvy enough to know it won’t stop the piracy, and they are probably savvy enough to know that piracy has almost no effect on ebook sales (in fact, our July AE report suggests that removing DRM might increase ebook sales. Studies in the music industry have shown the same effect And in traditional publishing, Tor has seen no detriment to going DRM-free).
Another way this program could be brilliant (though I fear no publisher is clever enough to think of this, and I’m probably giving them ideas) is to wage a fruitless legal battle with certain *cough* Amazon *cough* retailers. DRM removal on ebooks is a cinch. Buying ebooks on Amazon is a cinch. There’s a good chance that many of the pirated works are coming from Amazon sales. Perhaps publishers want a way to point back to the source and threaten legal action on the retailer, rather than tracking down the individuals who are doing the actual pirating.
Otherwise, what do publishers hope to gain with this program, other than annoy their paying customers who get locked into a single device? Let’s say they know a pirated ebook started with a purchase at Amazon. What then? Ask them to beef up their proprietary DRM? If Apple can’t keep their devices from being jailbroken (often on the day of release and with very smart people at Apple’s disposal), what hope does ebook DRM have? None.
To get around the unavailability of Harry Potter ebooks, fans took the time to go through the print books and TYPE THE WHOLE DAMN THINGS OUT. And then they uploaded these hand-made ebooks to warez sites. Publishers only lose money by fighting the needs and wishes of their paying customers. And their efforts don’t impact the people who refuse to support artists and publishers, anyway. There are hoarders out there who amass gigabytes of ebooks without any plan to read them, and these aren’t lost sales. It’s just a weird psychological dysfunction. Publishers should learn to ignore it and to embrace DRM-free media.