File protection from copying?

Subject: File protection from copying?
From: Geoff Hart <ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca>
To: techwr-l List <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>, Lev Abramov <lev -dot- abramov -at- gmail -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 25 Jan 2008 09:15:08 -0500

Lev Abramov wondered: <<A friend has just completed writing a book
which he wants to market online as an e-book. He's looking for a file
format which would ensure that the e-book can only be used on one
computer and not be circulated freely in violation of copyright. MP3
files downloaded to an iPod cannot be transferred to another iPod. Is
there any tool that would protect a text-based document in a similar

In the extreme sense, no, there's no possible way to protect anything
that can be seen by the human eye against copying. In the worst
possible case, people will manually retype what you've written.
Popular books such as the Harry Potter series are up on the Web for
free downloading within hours of their release in bookstores;
apparently, teams of hundreds of readers each type a couple pages,
reducing the task to an hour or two of frenzied typing. On the other
hand, if you make copyright protection sufficiently effective to be
inconvenient, someone will crack your protection within a few days
just to make a point; this has happened with most forms of DVD
protection, for instance.

The iTunes experience, not to mention the millions of Potter books
that have been sold, proves a larger point: if you set a fair price
for something, you remove most of the temptation to steal it even
when stolen copies are freely available. In addition, the experiences
of John Scalzi and Cory Doctorow (plus some other authors over at
Baen Publishing) offer strong (if anecdotal) evidence that making
your writing available for free doesn't dissuade readers from buying
the printed version as soon as it becomes available.

Yes, some people will still steal your writing, but the vast majority
will prove surprisingly honest. I've chosen this "as few strings as
possible" policy for my own eBook (see below), and while I have no
way of telling how many bootleg copies are circulating, I'm
reasonably confident that any working professional who needs a copy
(who else would read it?) can easily afford it, and will be willing
to pay for a copy. The book is selling well enough that I'm confident
this is the case, and I'm not going to obsess over whether I'm right.
In a couple weeks, when the book goes up on, we'll see what
the print sales are like.

Possibly it also helps that I've explicitly told me readers to treat
the book as if it were a paper book: you can move it between
computers (like moving a paperback to a new shelf), loan it to a
friend, or sell it to someone else if you choose. So long as you only
use one copy at a time, I haven't the slightest objection to what you
do with the book. I'd rather sell more copies than fewer, but I'm not
unhappy with the number I'm selling now.

-- Geoff Hart
ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca / geoffhart -at- mac -dot- com
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[slightly OT] File protection from copying: From: Lev Abramov

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