Paper Books Can’t Be Shut Off from Afar
July 23, 2019 6:07 AM   Subscribe

"Microsoft is shutting down its e-books service, and all the DRM books people bought from them will thus vanish into thin air. Microsoft will provide refunds to those affected, but that isn’t remotely the point. The point is that all their users’ books are to be shut off with a single poof! on Microsoft’s say-so. That is a button that nobody, no corporation and no government agency, should be ever permitted to have."
posted by BekahVee (88 comments total) 46 users marked this as a favorite
 
Everyone laughs at me for screen-shorting stuff... Stuff can disappear altogether from the net or just not be findable the next time you look.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 6:17 AM on July 23, 2019 [11 favorites]


The outcome for copyright maximalists is simply that every facet of culture, every human expression, becomes corporate property to which access can be sold, resold and rescinded at a whim. That's it, that's the whole story.

We should recognize this for what it is, straight up theft from the public good.

In the meantime, though: yarr.
posted by mhoye at 6:23 AM on July 23, 2019 [83 favorites]


My physical books haven't disappeared yet.
posted by Automocar at 6:26 AM on July 23, 2019 [17 favorites]


Get Calibre for ebook managment, then read Apprentice Alf’s Blog ("Everything you ever wanted to know about DRM and ebooks, but were afraid to ask.")
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 6:29 AM on July 23, 2019 [93 favorites]


I think it's pretty offensive to lead off the article with a photograph of Nazis burning books. That's not what the Microsoft situation is about and reality is bad enough right now without fantasizing about Trump deleting your e-books. I think people should be made aware that they're purchasing a license if they don't know that, and then they can take the risk if they want to.

At this point, around 90% of my reading consists of Kindle books from the library, so I'm used to books disappearing, and even if all of the e-books in the world vanished forever, I'd still have three paper copies of Brideshead Revisited, so I'm fine.
posted by betweenthebars at 6:34 AM on July 23, 2019 [22 favorites]


This is why I buy books printed on paper. I never saw the sense of buying e-books. Yes, they're fine for reading popular fiction and such, but history, bios, science etc I want hard copies.
posted by james33 at 6:41 AM on July 23, 2019 [8 favorites]


I'm strangely more disturbed by the apparent limited memory of online media in general with respect to their high dudgeon at only now discovering that ebook DRM is pants. It's like this has never happened before. Search back ~10 years and there are people upset when Microsoft started distoninuing its previous ebook platform, Microsoft Reader. Back another 10 years and people were upset over the Palm PDB format's DRM becoming unusable. There are still people today encountering these weird, locked formats and asking how to mangle them into something that Calibre can open.
posted by meehawl at 6:49 AM on July 23, 2019 [16 favorites]


This is incredibly irritating, and the second time this has happened to me. I spent hundreds of dollars on books from Fictionwise, only told be told that the company was shutting down and I was out of luck.

There are certainly advantages to e-books: with physical books, it's incredibly difficult to unwisely binge buy an entire series of novels at 5 AM from the comfort of your own bed; and anybody who has moved more than once with a large library is aware of how heavy they are.
posted by Comrade_robot at 6:50 AM on July 23, 2019 [8 favorites]


This is not even the first time Microsoft has done this, remember the Plays For SureTM debacle with music. So what you like about Apple, they seem to have a policy of ditching media DRM as soon as possible. I think only video from iTunes is still encrypted.

Although this is a great loss to those that purchased these books, I think people overestimate how long real books last in general. We tend to remember the few great books we keep with us and forget the mountains of disposable pulp that gets trashed. The average library book is only a few years old.

I resisted buying ebooks for a long time but now I think the tradeoff might be worth it (DRM notwithstanding). I keep around way more books than I ever did before on a easy-to-carry device. Its not all bad.
posted by AndrewStephens at 6:51 AM on July 23, 2019 [15 favorites]


People should get hard copies if that's what they want. But, almost every book I've purchased or acquired over the past 8 years has been an ebook. I've stripped the DRM from every last one of them and have them backed up. Both locally and off in some cloudbank. They're accessible via every device I own. If anything happens to my house, a large part of my library will survive. And it certainly makes moving much easier. In many respects, the ebooks feel like they're more permanently mine than the physical books.

Of course, the key part is stripping the DRM. Ebook utility would be enormously reduced if I couldn't do that. I'll never buy from any service where the DRM removal requires any serious effort at all.
posted by Teegeeack AV Club Secretary at 6:55 AM on July 23, 2019 [35 favorites]


My physical books haven't disappeared yet.

What does this contribute? This is a terrible situation and the digital media version of "fuck you, I've got mine" doesn't engage with the problem at all.
posted by OverlappingElvis at 6:57 AM on July 23, 2019 [92 favorites]


I think it's pretty offensive to lead off the article with a photograph of Nazis burning books. That's not what the Microsoft situation is about...

But the article is substantially about the risk of what governments can do with this power, it is not just a recap of the Microsoft news.
posted by snofoam at 6:58 AM on July 23, 2019 [10 favorites]


I think there will eventually need to be some legislative and funding support for SAAS and virtual goods sunsetting and support. In the same way that the travel industry pays into a big fund so that if your vacation provider goes bankrupt, you can be compensated, and banks have deposit insurance, there should be some kind of funding that keeps authentication servers going for digital content and companies shouldn't be allowed to sell DRMed products without a sunsetting plan in place.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:01 AM on July 23, 2019 [11 favorites]


If it's DRMed, you're not buying it, you're renting it. The rental contract could be for one payment “until further notice”, but it's still a rental contract.
posted by acb at 7:03 AM on July 23, 2019 [13 favorites]


OTOH wish real books were as easy to get rid off. Last year a friend brought back a book I’d disposed off. She found it at the dump - excuse me, recycling center - and said, ‘it looked like something you might be interested in!’
posted by The Toad at 7:08 AM on July 23, 2019 [47 favorites]


Ebooks are pretty cheap and support authors so don't do this just to be cheap unless you're really really broke, but:

If your purchases are being deactivated out from under you, a usenet account is cheap and pretty much every ebook that's ever been released (and a bunch that haven't) is available there. Sometimes if I'm feeling lazy I'll just download backup copies for calibre rather than strip the drm from the amazon file myself.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 7:17 AM on July 23, 2019 [4 favorites]


In the meantime, though: yarr.

I'm reading this as a reference to ebook piracy, and I approve of it. Definitely for DRM-free copies of books you already bought. (On preview, I agree with the GCU, and should note that you don't even need Usenet.)

For anyone who's intimidated by removing DRM, though - it really is easy, can be done on a large number of books all at once, and is likely to be legal in your jurisdiction.

There are also some (smaller, niche) bookstores that sell ebooks without DRM, and that's worth supporting where possible.
posted by trig at 7:21 AM on July 23, 2019 [8 favorites]


The link's a rework of a 2010 article in The Awl: I Finally Got a Kindle and I Love It but I Am Scared of Fascism. Not sure I'd pop US$4 (except in cryptocurrency) for the right to comment on Maria's new site, though.
posted by scruss at 7:22 AM on July 23, 2019 [1 favorite]


What does this contribute? This is a terrible situation and the digital media version of "fuck you, I've got mine" doesn't engage with the problem at all.

It contributes the fact that people should be a lot more skeptical of digital media than they currently are. Right here in this thread we've got someone saying that they strip the DRM from every e-book they buy and back it up to the cloud. That's great, but it's not reasonable or fair to expect that people put in hours of work in order to just keep the thing they bought.

Meanwhile, buy a printed book and you just... have it. Yeah, they take up room and if there's a fire you're in trouble. But if your home burns down I don't think losing your books will be your biggest worry.

More and more, I consider all non-physical media rented and/or disposable. Take them out from the library if you must (although librarians tend to hate e-books for all sorts of arcane reasons) but don't buy them.
posted by Automocar at 7:27 AM on July 23, 2019 [17 favorites]


When Microsoft terminated Zune Marketplace, they provided an unlock process for purchases. Disappointing they can't or won't do it again.

This ebook thing was announced in April, so trying to get the word out on the day of termination seems ill-timed.

> But the article is substantially about the risk of what governments can do with this power, it is not just a recap of the Microsoft news.

"Because Nazis" speculations are kinda' a corollary of Godwin's Law and doesn't really help any argument when there are already plenty of current and well-documented problems with DRM. All it does is make people want to argue how alarmist the Nazi scenario is, and the what's-happening-right-now part of the problem gets ignored.
posted by ardgedee at 7:27 AM on July 23, 2019 [2 favorites]


Please also remember that ebooks are not just a newfangled tech toy but also an accessibility issue - some people can't so easily pick up and turn the pages of a regular book.

Although this is a great loss to those that purchased these books, I think people overestimate how long real books last in general. We tend to remember the few great books we keep with us and forget the mountains of disposable pulp that gets trashed. The average library book is only a few years old.


If you want to cleanse yourself of the romance of old books, I recommend working in a used bookstore for a year, especially one that specializes in mass market sci fi paperbacks. A lot of old books are barely usable as books.
posted by HeroZero at 7:38 AM on July 23, 2019 [32 favorites]


I have several hundred books downloaded on my kindle. Uh kindleS. I have two.

Setting up Calibre is easy and has clear instructions. It is not hours of work. It takes like two minutes for a book.

Speaking of I should probably do this back up thing.

Ebooks made my overseas move a lot easier because I only kept books of sentimental value or that were ones best in paper. I’ve slowly bought back up again now that I’ve settled.

18 boxes of books would have cost more to ship I think!!

Still this is a good a thing to be aware of and to remember that not all media we pay for is ours.
posted by sio42 at 7:41 AM on July 23, 2019 [8 favorites]


I'm still pretty young in the scheme of things but I've really loved how eBooks let me just crank up the font size and rest my eyes a bit instead of dealing with whatever a book was printed with. I've actually repurchased a lot of my mass market paperbacks as eBooks when I want to reread them because of greater physical ease of reading.

There are real advantages for people of eBooks and no reason we can't have a sane legal regime that makes them better, instead of just falling back on "welp guess you never should have trusted anything except hard paper."
posted by Tomorrowful at 7:54 AM on July 23, 2019 [29 favorites]


I'm sympathetic to the idea that because digital copies are trivially easy to duplicate and distribute that *something* like DRM could exist.

But the rights holders, if they want the power to add digital restrictions, should be legally bound to the following:
  • Maintain authentication systems for all versions of DRM they have ever published, and maintain an auditable five nines uptime for these authentication systems, in perpetuity
  • In event of sale of the rights holder, the new owner must also comply with these regulations, in perpetuity.
  • In event of dissolution of the rights holder, assign the rights to an international agency which will maintain "liberation" systems such that any future authentication of items held by a dissolved company would thereafter immediately unlock DRM for all items.
  • The international clearinghouse would be funded by license fees for those who wish to impose DRM on their media
  • The international clearinghouse would immediately unlock all DRM from any rights holder who fails to maintain their authentication systems, or has their authentication systems unavailable for a period longer than 24 hours, notwithstanding natural disasters or force majeure.
Oh, who am I kidding? Buy your one copy legally, and as a backup measure raise the black flag, friends. These companies are not acting in good faith, and they never have. Find a good, non-US-hosted VPN, and sail the high seas.
posted by tclark at 7:54 AM on July 23, 2019 [17 favorites]


Stripping DRM and backing up didn't take hours. Calibre / Apprentice Alf did the work for me. And I had Calibre send all its output to the Dropbox folder, which meant zero effort for putting them online. The initial stripping of my library, when I finally got tired of the DRM, took maybe an hour, which included time reading the documentation. Any subsequent purchases have taken literally seconds.

I spent substantially less time on this project than the many hours I've spent in my life boxing up my physical library, painstakingly loading the heavy boxes into the truck, moving it across the country, and then unboxing it and shelving them on the other end. Not to mention the cumulative hours over the years I've spent looking for a specific book for a specific half-remembered passage that I could have found in seconds with a full-text search.

What's more unreasonable? The hours spent hauling dozens of very heavy boxes up 2 flights of stairs or minutes spent in the occasional batch DRM stripping?

And it is a comfort knowing the books (and music and photos) of mine will survive a complete destruction of my house. When the tornado sirens blared in my town earlier this year, the thought of their survival actually gave me a bit of peace amidst the panic. Perhaps that wouldn't be important to anyone else, but it was to me.
posted by Teegeeack AV Club Secretary at 7:56 AM on July 23, 2019 [22 favorites]


It contributes the fact that people should be a lot more skeptical of digital media than they currently are.

People are well aware of the limitations of digital media. Ebooks are not perfect, but they also have a lot of good qualities -- accessibility, searchability, zero physical space requirements (not everyone has a home that can accomodate hundreds of books), and frankly just plain convenience. Coming into a thread about one of the downsides that people have every right to want to see improved or removed and being like "nah you should just stop using them altogether regardless of whether their positive features are important to you" is not a useful contribution.
posted by tocts at 7:56 AM on July 23, 2019 [18 favorites]


For anyone who's intimidated by removing DRM, though - it really is easy, can be done on a large number of books all at once, and is likely to be legal in your jurisdiction.

Per that article, telling people how to use Calibre to remove DRM for their own archival purposes is not explicitly illegal (it's not contributory infringement). That does not mean that the act of removing the DRM itself *is* legal.
posted by hanov3r at 8:01 AM on July 23, 2019 [1 favorite]


Ebooks are not perfect, but they also have a lot of good qualities -- accessibility, searchability, zero physical space requirements (not everyone has a home that can accomodate hundreds of books), and frankly just plain convenience.

I read a lot in a foreign language (French), and honestly e-books have been transformative in allowing me to read much more widely and successfully in that language for two main reasons:

1) It's so much easier to get access to foreign-language books. Just now I read about a book (Querelle de Roberval, a book published in Quebec, less than 400 miles away) that I might be interested in reading. It's not available at any of my local libraries (and I live in New York, home of the 2nd and 5th largest public library systems in the country) and Albertine, the local French-language bookstore, doesn't carry it, let alone the Strand or Barnes & Noble. But I can easily get it in ebook format nearly immediately.

2) It's so much easier to look up vocabulary that I don't know (which also applies in English, but given that English is my native language I look up words much less frequently). No longer do I have to look up tignasse in a paper dictionary, or even a smartphone app -- I can literally just press my finger to the screen and look it up, making for a far less disruptive reading experience.
posted by andrewesque at 8:05 AM on July 23, 2019 [12 favorites]


The initial stripping of my library, when I finally got tired of the DRM, took maybe an hour, which included time reading the documentation

This is a solution that works for you, for now, but it's not a solution to the broader problems of DRM. Most people aren't as computer literate as we are, and don't know how to do this or how to find out how to do this. The process assumes some familiarity with what DRM is, what you're looking for, etc.

And then there's thee problem that the bigger the perceived "threat" is, the harder rights holders - and their governments - will go after it. I used to use a free tool to break the DRM on my DVDs so I could watch them where I wanted; it was well-known and widely available, but now is not. I know another method, but it's much more complicated to get it to work. The barrier has increased.

Even though there will always be individuals who know how to figure their way around it, DRM is still a problem for everyone else.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 8:12 AM on July 23, 2019 [9 favorites]


It seems like digitization is a powerful tool for broadly disseminating information, but it is really only dependable if people illegally circumvent DRM. In a way, Microsoft is doing a favor in reminding everyone (for the Nth time) that breaking the law is the only way to make the situation fair to the buyer.
posted by snofoam at 8:18 AM on July 23, 2019 [3 favorites]


ardgedee: ""Because Nazis" speculations are kinda' a corollary of Godwin's Law"

2 points:

a) Godwin's Law is not "don't invoke nazis", but rather "someone always invokes nazis", so in this case it's not a corollary but just the actual law.

b) Godwin himself declared it open season on calling people nazis.
posted by signal at 8:20 AM on July 23, 2019 [4 favorites]


If someone removes the DRM from their kindle books, are they still readable on Kindles and Kindle for Android?
posted by dobbs at 8:32 AM on July 23, 2019 [1 favorite]


b) Godwin himself declared it open season on calling people nazis.

Yes and if Microsoft were e-burning every copy of a book with the intent of making sure no one could *ever* read it, maybe the deployment of the image would be less ridiculous.

Full disclosure: I work at Microsoft, but even if I didn't, I don't know that 'frivolous Nazi comparisons are flavorful and delicious' would work for me.
posted by taterpie at 8:32 AM on July 23, 2019


This is a solution that works for you, for now, but it's not a solution to the broader problems of DRM.

Of course. I never said otherwise. It's an enormous problem. But there are non-technical people even here on Metafilter. I think it's important to point out there are solutions, easy ones at that, which can make one's ebooks a more permanent possession. At least for one's current and past purchases. That it's much less of a pain than it might initially appear.

In the longer term though, DRM just needs to die.
posted by Teegeeack AV Club Secretary at 8:33 AM on July 23, 2019 [2 favorites]


I read a lot of ebooks, mostly borrowed from the library, but those are books I only want to read once anyways. Or I get books from Project Gutenberg. I don't want to buy a physical copy of book I'm only going to read once and then deal with it. Ebooks or borrowed from the library is fine 99% of the time. Anything I want to keep long term or re-read I get as a paper book, but those are few and far between. I like reading books, but I don't need my home to be a storehouse for information. I am not going to hoard and save all the books for all peoples and all times.

So I guess while this is annoying, I have never assumed that ebooks were anything more than an ephemeral thing. What annoys me is when they cost more than a paper copy. If I can't get it from the library, and can get a paper book for a fraction of the price of a digital copy, I'll do that and get rid of if it when I'm done with it.
posted by fimbulvetr at 8:37 AM on July 23, 2019 [2 favorites]


If someone removes the DRM from their kindle books, are they still readable on Kindles and Kindle for Android?

Yes. If you have your Kindle hooked up to your computer while running Calibre, then Calibre can take care of copying them to your Kindle. Or you can manually drag them into your Kindle via your OS's file manager. For mobi files, you can also email the books to your Kindle's email address and have them show up (and be backed up at Amazon).

For Android, there's a couple of ways. Put them on your SD card and then select the book(s), and have the Kindle app open them. Or use a cloud service, like Dropbox, which has an Android app and will let you access / share files from it.

iOS is similar. I personally use Dropbox to have either Kindle or iBooks open my book files. I'm sure the other cloud service apps could work similarly. Once opened, the books will be there subsequently. iBooks has the advantage of automatically backing all of them up to iCloud. With iOS 13 coming out later this year, it will be possible to hook up a USB flash drive to your i-device, or connect to a network share, and do a bulk import of books.
posted by Teegeeack AV Club Secretary at 8:41 AM on July 23, 2019 [6 favorites]


If someone removes the DRM from their kindle books, are they still readable on Kindles and Kindle for Android?

Yes, because it's the local copy on your hard drive that has the DRM stripped. If you try to cross-load that copy onto your Kindle, your Kindle will recognize it as a different book, and you will have 2 copies of the same title on your Kindle: one with DRM, and one without.
posted by suelac at 8:42 AM on July 23, 2019 [2 favorites]


So on one hand, yes: accessibilty + fewer trees being used = ebooks have their advantages.

But on the other hand, having your entire library deleted by accident, malice, or just not giving a shit because a company wanted to, is shitty.

And then the "just strip the DRM" idea is great, but as Kutsuwamushi pointed out, only works until the companies in question decide to make that illegal or impossible. And it is still one more step for those who buy ebooks to take.

And yeah, there are a lot of junk books out there that really don't need paper copies. But who gets to decide which ones those are?

I feel like this is the kind of discussion where librarians need to weigh in; what do we keep, how do we keep it, who is responsible for it, how do we access it again?
posted by emjaybee at 8:43 AM on July 23, 2019 [4 favorites]


And yeah, there are a lot of junk books out there that really don't need paper copies. But who gets to decide which ones those are?

The purchaser gets to decide. Buy an ebook if you think it is a junk book, buy a paper copy if you want to keep it forever.

Now, if paper books ever disappear completely, that is a bigger problem.
posted by fimbulvetr at 8:49 AM on July 23, 2019


Remember before you sneer: ebooks are a godsend for those of us with severe vision problems. I wouldn't be reading much at all without my Kindle.
posted by LindsayIrene at 8:51 AM on July 23, 2019 [32 favorites]


Sure, ebooks can disappear without warning, but it's not like paper is much more secure. All you need is a match to destroy an entire library. If you're really concerned about the longevity of your books, have them engraved into stone.
posted by Faint of Butt at 9:01 AM on July 23, 2019 [7 favorites]


Per that article, telling people how to use Calibre to remove DRM for their own archival purposes is not explicitly illegal (it's not contributory infringement). That does not mean that the act of removing the DRM itself *is* legal.

Yeah, the framing of that article is misleading. In fact the judge makes a distinction between removing DRM, which she says not in itself copyright infringement, and copying and distributing the de-DRMed file, which is another matter. From the ruling itself:
The facts alleged in the counterclaims are insufficient to plead the intent required for inducement of copyright infringement. While instructions may suffice in some
circumstances to establish an intent to infringe, the instructions must relate to “an infringing use.” Grokster, 545 U.S. at 936 (emphasis added). Here, Abbey House discussed only a noninfringing use in the Announcement: the removal of DRM protection by consumers so that they could continue to read their purchased e-books on new devices after Abbey House went out of business. This does not promote the infringement at issue here.
Indeed, the terms of the Announcement, in which Abbey House told its users that removal of DRM-protection was permissible if done for personal use, contradicts the general allegation that Abbey House had the specific intent to induce copyright infringement.
That some users may have used the e-books in an infringing manner after removing DRM protection does not change this analysis; this was not the use for which Abbey House gave instructions or that it encouraged.
S&S and Penguin’s arguments to the contrary conflate the removal of DRM protection with the infringement alleged in the counterclaims. There is no question that Abbey House encouraged the removal of DRM protection. The act of infringement underlying the inducement claim, however, is not the removal of DRM protection. Rather, it is the copying and distribution of e-books to others after such protection has been removed.
I don't think there's been a once-and-for-all ruling that removing DRM is always fine, but looking through the wikipedia overview there have been a number of cases where the distinction between action and intent is considered the deciding issue: removing DRM for personal purposes is not infringement, while removing DRM for the purposes of distribution is infringement.

Anyway, for anyone worried that removing DRM in itself is unethical, it might help to know that courts internationally tend not to rule that way.
posted by trig at 9:34 AM on July 23, 2019 [1 favorite]


But there are non-technical people even here on Metafilter. I think it's important to point out there are solutions, easy ones at that, which can make one's ebooks a more permanent possession.

And I think it's helpful to do so. It's just that the tone of some of the comments on this thread seemed to be blaming people for either buying ebooks or not knowing how to get around the DRM, which isn't helpful.

I don't buy many ebooks, but I might have to in the future. I'm at a point in my life where I have to move a lot, and on top of that I (hope to continue to) do long international research trips where hauling books around isn't realistic. I'm capable to breaking DRM, but for me, it's actually an issue of whether I want to support the sales of DRM'd books. I said no to Comixology for that reason. Paying that much for something that can be yanked away arbitrarily feels like I'm being taken advantage of - it's icky, even if I break the DRM later.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 9:41 AM on July 23, 2019 [1 favorite]


Mice ate my favorite video game book from the early 80s, so checkmate, physical media people
posted by prize bull octorok at 9:44 AM on July 23, 2019 [14 favorites]


  1. content in corporate-owned systems can vanish if the corporation (or a state the corporation operates in) decides that that content needs to vanish.
  2. content in corporate-owned systems can vanish if the corporation collapses, or if it simply decides for whatever reason that it is bored of providing that content.
  3. pirate archives, unlike the for-pay corporate libraries, are durable, and get more durable as more people copy them.
  4. it is the responsibility of those of us with computer skills to do whatever we can to help make pirate libraries more accessible to regular folks. depending on our skill levels and amount of time, we should do everything from helping our friends access pirate libraries to writing new software to make piracy more accessible to everyone.
  5. at the very least all of us, regardless of our level of technical knowhow, need to help normalize the idea of using pirate libraries. we have a responsibility to point people away from corruptible centralized sources like amazon and microsoft and toward decentralized, democratic pirate sources.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 9:51 AM on July 23, 2019 [7 favorites]


It's disappointing that so much of this discussion has been a retread of old "this is why I like e-books" and "this is why you shouldn't like e-books" arguments instead of "e-books are here and many people use and rely on them so here are the complex issues that need to be addressed (or should have already been addressed)."
posted by ElKevbo at 9:52 AM on July 23, 2019 [21 favorites]


I lost about a third of my books to flooding. Still, I prefer paper books, nicer to hold, don't need charging. I like owning the book, being able to lend and borrow paper books, buy used books. I like that paper usually lasts and books seem to have a longer life in paper. I can read a paper book in the tub and dry it if it gets damp. It's easy to take ebooks out, even in the middle of the night when I can't sleep, though my local libraries use the Adobe Cloud reader, which I don't love. I can bring a book on a car ride and easily read at night. Books, I want them in both forms.

What I really, really miss is bookshops. Choosing a book is now more likely to be from a review, not because I was browsing shelves. I hate the way amazon shoves books at me, based on what they want to sell. They could tweak their algorithm to find things I love, but that's not my experience. I like being in bookstores, hanging out with readers, although that guy I met in the book store; I should never have married him. Even with that, I love book stores. There's a defunct gas station not too far away that is begging to be made into a bookstore & cafe, should I decide I want to jump off that cliff.
posted by theora55 at 9:54 AM on July 23, 2019 [8 favorites]


And I think it's helpful to do so. It's just that the tone of some of the comments on this thread seemed to be blaming people for either buying ebooks or not knowing how to get around the DRM, which isn't helpful.

This feels like a misreading of why people are talking about DRM stripping being straightforward. The point is not to blame people for not doing it; the point is to let people know that, contrary to a lot of misinformation that gets spread around, it's actually pretty straightforward to do and you don't need deep technical skills (nor loads of time) to do it. So, if getting your ebooks out of the DRM scheme they're in is a thing you want but feel like is beyond your grasp, please know that there are options (at least for now).
posted by tocts at 9:57 AM on July 23, 2019 [1 favorite]


Once you install the plug-in in Calibre (trivial to do), it automatically strips the DRM when you add a book to it. It really is completely effortless and almost instantaneous.
posted by fimbulvetr at 10:05 AM on July 23, 2019 [3 favorites]


I do order a lot of books for my Kindle, and pretty much always see the blurb at checkout: "At the Publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied." But really, all books sold should have this as a standard, we should have rights to the content we have paid for, regardless of medium.
posted by caution live frogs at 10:12 AM on July 23, 2019 [1 favorite]


Richard Stallman, prognosticator!

https://www.gnu.org/philosophy/the-danger-of-ebooks.en.html
https://stallman.org/ebooks.pdf
posted by gkr at 10:29 AM on July 23, 2019 [9 favorites]


Yeah, for all the hippie-punching that Stallman gets - some of it very deservedly - he was right on about this.
posted by RedOrGreen at 10:38 AM on July 23, 2019 [3 favorites]


I've heard good things about some IRC channels.
IFYKWIMAITYD
posted by signal at 10:50 AM on July 23, 2019 [2 favorites]


So what you like about Apple, they seem to have a policy of ditching media DRM as soon as possible.

Are their books finally DRM-free? They were limited to apple devices for ages, I gave up checking.
posted by jeather at 11:22 AM on July 23, 2019


I buy paper copies of all the books I really like, and then illegally download digital copies of them to read on my Kindle, because I prefer actually reading on my Kindle but enjoy the reassuring presence of a physical book on my shelf.

It's a sorta messed up system but it works for me.
posted by stillnocturnal at 11:24 AM on July 23, 2019 [2 favorites]


Yes and if Microsoft were e-burning every copy of a book with the intent of making sure no one could *ever* read it, maybe the deployment of the image would be less ridiculous.

If you read the article, it really isn't about what Microsoft is doing, but about how DRM is problematic and could be used by governments to censor. The image does make sense in the context of the article that was posted here, although some comments here have argued that this aspect of the article is the "wrong" conclusion to draw from what Microsoft is doing.
posted by snofoam at 12:01 PM on July 23, 2019


I love books, have had one on or near my body continuously since I was 6 years old or so, but have no special love for the codex format (ie: paper books). I'm also the sort of technophile who ditched paper as fast as I could. I basically never read paper if I can avoid it.
I also threw out / gave away my 100+ CD collection as soon as MP3s and streaming became viable.
I do keep 2 LPs in my bookshelf (though I don't have any way to play them): Duran Duran's Arena and Quiet Riot's Metal Health..
posted by signal at 12:02 PM on July 23, 2019 [2 favorites]


You should never buy books from Apple. They still have DRM and there's no crack. At least no crack that's effortless. In terms of which DRM is weakest, Google Play Store books seem to have that crown.
posted by Teegeeack AV Club Secretary at 12:42 PM on July 23, 2019 [2 favorites]


This is a problem an application of blockchain would solve and even create an economy for used ebooks. Unfortunately I'm not sure ebook publishers would want to get on board as this new opportunity to sell used books would cut into their profits.
posted by czytm at 12:49 PM on July 23, 2019


> For anyone who's intimidated by removing DRM, though - it really is easy, can be done on a large number of books all at once, and is likely to be legal in your jurisdiction.

Is it, though? The last time I looked into stripping the DRM from my Kindle-bought books, it didn't seem widely possible. Has the landscape changed? (I'm fairly comfortable with Calibre.)
posted by Sokka shot first at 1:09 PM on July 23, 2019


"Just remove DRM" is not an answer because at some point that could become impossible.

What a lot of us really fear is a future where no one makes paper books anymore and there's no real way to protect your ebooks from censorship or deletion. Which is an entirely possible thing. Lots of dictators would love it.
posted by emjaybee at 1:29 PM on July 23, 2019 [5 favorites]


My physical books haven't disappeared yet.

You must not be in the habit of loaning them out to good friends who you know well and can absolutely trust to return them. (Another thing made difficult by DRM.)
posted by sfenders at 1:37 PM on July 23, 2019 [3 favorites]


This is a problem an application of blockchain would solve

Now you have two problems.
posted by hanov3r at 1:55 PM on July 23, 2019 [7 favorites]


The last time I looked into stripping the DRM from my Kindle-bought books, it didn't seem widely possible. Has the landscape changed? (I'm fairly comfortable with Calibre.)

Here's one way (using a Calibre plugin). The site described additional tools and methods as well if you'd rather not use Calibre. (Btw, I can't testify to the plugins but a lot of Calibre's functionality is available through the command line, for anyone who prefers keeping your books organized in your own way and not in an application's library.)

For anyone not familiar with all this: removing DRM also means that you can easily convert your books from one format to another, so if one day you want to switch from a Kindle to a Kobo or whatever you don't need to repurchase all your books. Calibre is a program that lets you organize your library, convert books from one format to another, strip DRM (with a plugin), creates ebooks out of your files or Internet content, send any document wirelessly to your device, and lord knows what else. It has a large and active userbase.
posted by trig at 2:19 PM on July 23, 2019 [2 favorites]


it is the responsibility of those of us with computer skills to do whatever we can to help make pirate libraries more accessible to regular folks. depending on our skill levels and amount of time, we should do everything from helping our friends access pirate libraries to writing new software to make piracy more accessible to everyone.

It's worth noting how important "accessible to everyone" is as an apect of piracy. The main ebook downloading sites I know started life largely as a repository for textbooks and academic research, and many of the users were, and I assume continue to be, from locations where they don't otherwise have access to these books (which are usually ridiculously expensive to buy online, if they're even available in electronic form). Like scihub, they're a huge service to anyone not in the vicinity of a major well-funded academic library.
posted by trig at 2:35 PM on July 23, 2019 [3 favorites]


And it is a comfort knowing the books (and music and photos) of mine will survive a complete destruction of my house.

This is certainly one way to look at it. I take comfort in knowing that the 10,000+ books in this house will survive any electronic catastrophe up to and including a city-paralyzing EMP.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 2:41 PM on July 23, 2019 [3 favorites]


Amazon has been making it harder to strip the DRM from your purchases for a couple of years now. The Mobileread forum has a thread dedicated to the issue; the first post is updated with new workarounds as things change. Basically it requires an earlier version of Kindle for Mac or PC.

Mobileread thread with instructions
posted by current resident at 2:56 PM on July 23, 2019 [5 favorites]


Basically it requires an earlier version of Kindle for Mac or PC.

Oh, yes, I forgot about that. And it's a real problem: do not let your computer update your Kindle software on your computer.
posted by suelac at 3:06 PM on July 23, 2019


Is there a Caliber-equivalent for ChromeOS?
posted by dobbs at 3:17 PM on July 23, 2019


My understanding is that Apple ebooks have DRM by default, but at least as of some years ago, the publisher can request that their books be provided DRM-free through Apple's store. I don't think this is very common, but it was the case for jscalzi's The Human Division, when that was being serialized.

I really like ebooks in theory, but I refuse to buy DRM'd media, so my options are pretty limited there. I long for "buy the physical book, get a DRM-free ebook copy" like we've somehow managed to get for buying records these days.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 3:29 PM on July 23, 2019


What a lot of us really fear is a future where no one makes paper books anymore and there's no real way to protect your ebooks from censorship or deletion. Which is an entirely possible thing. Lots of dictators would love it.

So run your own library for you and your friends, there's Web Calibre. The library I host for my friends is almost up to 1000 books. One click to send books directly to your Kindle.

I'm not sure how a dictator would stop the spread of ebooks any more than the RIAA can stop the spread of MP3 files. I mean "Library Genesis" is already mirrored all over the web and any P2P file trading service you can think of. Calibre itself shares by default, lots of people leave their Calibre servers wide open.

I love ebooks. I got rid of most of my physical books. You can read Kindles in dark places, like bars!
posted by bradbane at 3:37 PM on July 23, 2019 [3 favorites]



And it is a comfort knowing the books (and music and photos) of mine will survive a complete destruction of my house.

This is certainly one way to look at it. I take comfort in knowing that the 10,000+ books in this house will survive any electronic catastrophe up to and including a city-paralyzing EMP.


I have both paper books and ebooks (I buy paper copies of all my favourites) so I can survive both apocalypses.
posted by jeather at 4:26 PM on July 23, 2019 [1 favorite]


> This is a problem an application of blockchain would solve and even create an economy for used ebooks. Unfortunately I'm not sure ebook publishers would want to get on board as this new opportunity to sell used books would cut into their profits.

increasing the ease-of-use and widespread public acceptance of book piracy is a solution that is superior in every way to your proposed blockchain solution.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 4:42 PM on July 23, 2019 [3 favorites]


Oh, yes, I forgot about that. And it's a real problem: do not let your computer update your Kindle software on your computer

Or get a Kobo and escape the Amazon ecosystem.
posted by fimbulvetr at 4:58 PM on July 23, 2019 [1 favorite]


What do people recommend for an e reader that is not being surveilled by amazon? Is a kobo yhe best option?
posted by medusa at 5:13 PM on July 23, 2019 [1 favorite]


medusa, my sister (who turned me on to Kindle when she gave me her Kindle 1 way too long ago) swears by her Likebook Mars e-reader, which is really an Android e-ink device and is available on Amazon and other places. It's a true Android device with Google Play Store. She prefers the frontlighting to the Kindle's (she had both a Paperwhite and one of the higher end models)
posted by lhauser at 7:15 PM on July 23, 2019


I have gone all-in on ebooks for several reasons:

* Paper books take up too much space. I don't have space for many books, but I want many books around. The space I have is devoted to art books, large format books, stuff that doesn't work well in digital format, and a few paper copies of books that have shaped my life.

* Despite the delightful feel of a paper book in one's hand, my hands have a hard time holding a paper book for long periods. Paperbacks are too stiff to hold open while holding them up; hardbacks are too heavy. My Kindle is the perfect size and weight for me, and if I don't have my Kindle with me, I can read on my phone.

* I love variable font sizes.

* I love frontlighting.

* I love having my whole library with me.

I don't pirate books, because I believe in paying authors (I hope to join the ranks of these paid authors one day). But I do strip DRM off the books I buy and convert to other formats, so I'm not tied to Amazon if I don't choose to be.

I do look for offers like StoryBundle and such that offer their books at a very reasonable cost, share part of the sales price with charity, and sell the books without DRM.

I buy from Comixology, but the only creator I buy from that's important to me is Terry Moore (Strangers In Paradise, Echo, Rachel Rising), whose comics are sold without DRM.
posted by lhauser at 7:32 PM on July 23, 2019 [4 favorites]


Medusa, I use Kobo. I like it, most of the stuff is DRM free, some of the money goes to my local indie bookstore. But Rakuten, while a twentieth the size of Amazon, is still a multi billion dollar company so it's not worthy of romaniticizing.
posted by mark k at 7:36 PM on July 23, 2019 [1 favorite]


Honestly, I recommend whichever reader you find to fit your ergonomic and physical needs, and then loading it up with drm-stripped and converted ebooks in whatever format it needs. Calibre will turn your epubs into mobis and vice versa, and whatever else you need, so it's ultimately just the form factor and delivery method. And that's personal taste.
posted by kafziel at 7:39 PM on July 23, 2019 [3 favorites]


I get a lot of reading done on my samsung galaxy 6+. It's a little cramped, but the convenience of having a book always in my pockets is golden. It's like cameras, the best e-book reader is the one you always have with you.
posted by signal at 8:16 PM on July 23, 2019


Per that article, telling people how to use Calibre to remove DRM for their own archival purposes is not explicitly illegal (it's not contributory infringement).
Unfortunately, "not contributory infringement" is not directly equivalent to "is not illegal". I'd point out that the original title of that Gizmodo article (when it was first published on EFF's site), was a lot narrower: "Pointing Users to DRM-Stripping Software Isn't Copyright Infringement, Judge Rules".

Usually when people worry about the legality of informing others of how to circumvent DRM for legitimate purposes in the United States, they're thinking about section 1201 of the DMCA. At EFF, we're working hard to try and ensure that provision doesn't end up being interpreted so broadly that it would affect individuals when they talk about or perform DRM circumvention for legitimate uses -- both in the courts, and in the triennial exemption process.

I wish I could say that this was all clear-cut, but it really isn't, and the ridiculousness of the DMCA and other anti-circumvention laws around the globe are to blame.
posted by ntk at 8:38 PM on July 23, 2019 [4 favorites]


I'm a very fast reader; not having to find space and weight for nine paperbacks on a week's holiday is a godsend.
posted by mippy at 10:50 PM on July 23, 2019 [5 favorites]


Alf just came out with a script that can do KFX files, IIRC. So even an updated Kindle for PC is still usable.
posted by Ahniya at 8:18 AM on July 24, 2019 [1 favorite]


The nice thing about abandoning the cultural imperative to be au courant is that a $25 used Nook Simple Touch and Project Gutenberg gives you enough books that, if you read one every day, you'd have free books to last you 161 years. Plus, they're in an open format, on a MicroSD card, and no one can just delete them from a distance.
posted by sonascope at 9:22 AM on July 24, 2019 [2 favorites]


If your taste runs to fantasy and science fiction, Weightless Books are all DRM free, available in PDF, mobi, and ePub formats.

I'm also pleased with Libro FM, which provides downloadable audiobooks without DRM while kicking back 10% to local bookstores.
posted by Jesse the K at 11:10 AM on July 24, 2019


What a lot of us really fear is a future where no one makes paper books anymore and there's no real way to protect your ebooks from censorship or deletion. Which is an entirely possible thing. Lots of dictators would love it.
posted by emjaybee at 3:29 PM on July 23


I used to worry about this before starting a publishing company. I've found that print books outsell ebooks about 2-to-1, and that's a relatively static number over the last five years, and I'm mostly publishing science fiction anthologies, which you'd expect to be on the more disposable side as these things go.
posted by joannemerriam at 10:29 AM on July 26, 2019 [1 favorite]


Is there a Caliber-equivalent for ChromeOS?

Recent Chromebooks can run arbitrary Linux apps. You get sudo (root) access to a Debian VM, with some magic to make the apps appear as individual windows. Several people have used Calibre on it. They say it is possible to get files onto an e-reader as well, although it's not as obvious how to set up. I don't know if our friend Alf has written specific instructions for this platform, but there should be everything you need to make that possible.
posted by sourcejedi at 11:26 AM on July 26, 2019


> In the meantime, though: yarr.

You inspired me to look up one of the books I wrote and sure enough, there are pirated copies out there. I'm kinda bummed about that.
posted by The corpse in the library at 4:14 PM on July 27, 2019


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