Hachettes SVP admits DRM only a speed bump—but Hachettes unlikely to drop DRM anyway
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  • April 2, 2012
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Could Hachette take a hatchet to DRM? That’s the suggestion Laura Hazard Owen makes in a piece on PaidContent covering remarks by Hachette SVP Maja Thomas at the Copyright Clearance Center’s OnCopyright 2012 event. Thomas reiterated some of the same points that DRM opponents have made, pointing out that DRM is a speedbump rather than a preventative for piracy:

There’s a misconception that somehow the digital format of books has made piracy increase, or become logarithmically more serious. But piracy was always very easy to do, because scanning a physical copy of a book [takes] a matter of minutes. A physical book doesn’t have DRM on it.

She notes that the audiobook business where she previously worked had not been destroyed by removing DRM from its works—“If anything, it became more robust.” And, as Anobii CEO Matteo Berlucchi recently pointed out, removing DRM from e-books would end the device lock-in that is giving Amazon such a big advantage over other e-book device makers, and such a big hold over the publishers.

But on the other hand, Hachette UK CEO Tim Hely Hutchinson seemed to disagree, saying in a letter to authors and agents that “the advantages [of DRM] greatly outweigh any perceived disadvantages.” It won’t stop determined pirates, but does prevent the casual sharing of files, and that’s what it’s supposed to do.

But really, when you look at it, there isn’t all that much disagreement there. As Nate Hoffelder points out on The Digital Reader, it really looks like two people were given the same set of talking points and interpreted them in different ways.

You could say that they were just adapting those points to two divergent audiences. For the Copyright Clearance Center, where presumably there were a lot of people who don’t like DRM very much, Hachette emphasized how DRM doesn’t solve the piracy program, but didn’t go into the fact that it’s going to keep using it anyway. For the authors and agents, who presumably mostly favor DRM, Hachette emphasized the fact that it’s going to keep using the DRM, while not emphasizing that it is ineffective against piracy.

Even though it’s nice to hear one big publishing industry exec copping to some of the most common anti-DRM arguments, I would honestly be very surprised if Hachette or any of the other Big Six publishers dropped DRM any time soon. A lot of authors and agents still insist on DRM, feeling that anything that makes it even a little harder for their books to be pirated could earn them at least a little more money. And I suspect the publishers are still more afraid of piracy than they are of Amazon—though perhaps that could change depending on how far the Justice Department makes them roll back agency pricing. It’s also possible the DRM-free Harry Potter experiment could change some minds.

Of course, I was also really surprised when Amazon and Apple started selling DRM-free MP3s, so it’s not impossible one or more of the publishers might surprise me. We’ll just have to wait and see.

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