Jerry Pournelle on eBook DRM

Link: Chaos Manor Reviews Column 325, Part 4, August 28, 2007.

"From my view, if there were a good technical way to make electronic book sales much like regular book sales – if you want to give away a book, you can’t do that and keep it as well – I would cheer for DRM. On the other hand, if DRM makes life difficult for paying customers, that’s not good."

This is a thought experiment which I’ve posed a few times: if there was a DRM which which allowed consumers exactly the same "fair use" rights that they have at present, would you support it?

I’ve yet to get a really good answer from anyone in the anti-DRM camp. Mostly, the answers attempt to claim that such a system isn’t possible, because it relies on software being capable of understanding the intent of someone when copying it (are they copying for personal use, or to pass on?). But in books, things are much clearer than in music: there is no fair use right to copy an entire book, even for academic or personal use.

I actually have a theory about this, but I’ll get to that over the weekend.

  • Joe Clark

    It isn’t true that U.S. fair use precludes copying an entire book. Substantiality may still be upheld by copying the whole work. Just as an example, those little chapbooks you see at bookstore cash-register counters? How are you going to critique something that small without duplicating the whole thing?

  • Ian Betteridge

    You’re getting things the wrong way round when it comes to “substantial”. Copy the whole book, even a small one, and you are indeed copying the “substantial” (or “essential” in the UK copyright phraseology) part of it.

    In US law, one of the considerations for fair use is the effect on the value of the work. Reproducing something in its entirety, no matter what its size, would have a serious detrimental effect on its value – and hence fail to fall within fair use.

    Consider, for example, a six line poem. Were I to be writing a book of poetry criticism, publishing the poem in its entirety would reduce its economic value to the poet to zero. This would override my academic “fair use”.

    The only possible defence to this would be that the economic value is already zero – ie the work is being given away freely by the author. In which case, I can’t really see them suing anyway!