December 23, 2008

The Baen Free Library and a bit on DRM ebooks

I'm sure that I've pointed out a few books from the Baen Free Library before, in particular the the books by Rick Cook, which are interesting to computer science people and fantasy people (or possibly only the intersection of the two.)

I've been meaning to go through and download other books from the site - I have read a few which led to some paper book purchases, but never took the time to get all the books there. I finally had a bit of time today and wrote up a quick Perl/LWP script to go through and download the books and covers. I'll throw them on my OLPC later on today, but I really get a kick out of browsing the covers. OSX does a nice job of browsing stuff like that when it is all thrown into a directory together.

I haven't read much out of the free library yet, so I can't provide any recommendations other than the above (which realistically is limited to a pretty small audience) but I encourage you to check out the library. I also like Baen's Webscriptions service. It is really great to get DRM-free ebooks, because you can transfer them to other devices.

I started out reading ebooks on my Handspring Visor. I then moved what I could over to my Treo 600, and now I primarily read on my OLPC with FBReader. There were some DRM'd books that I was not able to move across. I try to make sure from here on out that the books that I buy do not have DRM (digital rights management, but more realistically digital restrictions management) so that I can make sure that as technology progresses I can keep reading the books I've bought. Real books don't have this problem: when you buy a real book, you can keep reading it and you do not need to ask permission from a publisher or content provider to move the book to a new device. Maybe a good analogy would be if you buy a book, and the publisher stipulates that you can only read the book in the house you live in when you bought it. If you move, you have to give the book up.

That is just terrible. I know it is tough for publishers to publish DRM free books because they are worried about copying and re-distribution, but that is not my problem. Don't assume I am a criminal (I am not) and don't make things difficult for me because of what other people do. Usually there are provisions or ways for the company to re-license your book for new hardware, but there are problems with that too: what happens if the company goes out of business? You won't be able to move to new devices then. I know that I have read books that are over 40 years old, and I would like to be able to do that with ebooks. Even without that scenario, why am I required to get permission from some entity to do things that should be entirely within my rights (format, place, or time shifting) with data that I bought? It is ridiculous.

I really want an Amazon Kindle, but I am also worried about the DRM that they place on their books. I am sure that Amazon will be around for a long time, but what if I want to read things on my kindle and on my computer? (Probably wouldn't happen since the e-ink screens are much nicer than LCDs IMHO.) I'm sure in 20 years though there will be some other great device that I would like to use for reading, and if books have DRM on them I can't be sure that I would be able to do that. Paper books are better in that regard, but I just don't have the room I need to store lots of those, so I would really like to move to digital books.

So for now I will stick to DRM-free books. I might also start buying DRM'd books if I can find a way to remove the DRM from them - I know there are some programs around that can try to do that, so maybe that would work too. I'm not interested in copying and re-distributing books, I am just interested in being able to use my data freely. One reason MP3s are so popular is because people can use them how they want to use them, and don't have to worry about DRM issues.

Well, rant mode off. If you are interested in DRM and computer games, I recommend reading Shamus Young's Twenty Sided blog, which touches on DRM issues. And Shamus is generally an interesting guy that writes well about all sorts of stuff.


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