piracy, antipiracy

Experimental ebook DRM tweaks text to trace piracy

A new form of ebook Digital Rights Management in development shows just how far the book industry is willing to go to stop piracy.

It’s called SiDiM, and it’s being developed by Darmstadt Technical University in Germany, with backing from the German government and ebook industry. For each individual copy of an ebook, SiDiM applies subtle changes to the text itself, along with other invisible markings.

DRM

As TorrentFreak explains, SiDiM might change the word “unsympathetic” to “not sympathetic.” This DRM could also alter punctuation and add extra line breaks to the text.

By changing the actual text of an ebook, SiDiM would create unique copies that could be traced to the original owner. In theory, users would be aware of this antipiracy method, and would be discouraged from widely distributing ebooks over the Internet.

Watermark reworked

The idea of digital watermarking for ebooks is not new. Some publishers, such as Pearson’s Peachpit, have the ability to create custom copies of ebooks. Notably, the Harry Potter books from J.K. Rowling’s Pottermore site were advertised as DRM-free, but actually contain watermarking from a Dutch company called Booxtream, as The Digital Reader reported last year.

digital books ebooks

It’s not clear why the German publishers consider SiDiM a better solution than these more benign watermarks. Perhaps changing the actual text makes the DRM harder to crack, but authors—particularly those who fuss over every word and punctuation mark—would likely despise the idea, as would readers.

Fortunately, it doesn’t appear that any major book publishers are involved in the research, though SiDiM’s backers include several companies that deal with ebook marketing and distribution. Publishers have been fretting about ebook piracy for years, but let's hope they’ll never go so far as to tarnish their own authors’ works.

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