I have noticed of late a few authors’ comments and blogs about their frustrations with eBooks and territorial restrictions. Some of these same authors were vehemently opposed to the lifting (or even modification) of territorial copyright on printed books but are now questioning why they can’t access certain eBooks or why their own eBooks are not available in some countries.
The frustration felt by authors not being able to access the eBooks they want to read is the same frustration felt by readers and booksellers when confronted by some of the absurdities of territorial copyright on printed books. As a reader being denied access to the book you want, in the format you want, at the price you want is maddening. As a bookseller the same is all true plus you are unable to provide the service you want to your customers. It is enough to drive you insane.
Authors frustrated by their own eBooks not being available in some territories forget that the same principle that applies to the territorial copyright protection of their printed books applies to their eBooks, but this time in reverse. Territorial copyright protects an author’s copyright from overseas editions and (in theory) helps local publishers invest more in local authors; print books and eBooks. And, in the case of eBooks, current territorial restrictions actually protect my business. While the Australian market has been slow to move on eBooks, the fact that giant, overseas retailers can’t sell some eBooks into this market means there is still hope I can get into the eBook market, hopefully sooner rather than later.
There is a big difference though between territorial copyright for print books and territorial restrictions for eBooks. Print books are protected by legislation and eBooks are protected by DRM (Digital Rights Management) and metadata. This means that the territorial restrictions of a print book is set by law and the territorial restrictions of an eBook is set by the publisher. The publisher sets this restriction depending on whether they own the global rights to the eBook or whether they want to on-sell a territorial right to another publisher. Any eBook territorial copyright legislation that might be put forward is meaningless for an overseas originated eBook because an Australian law doesn’t apply to how a publisher in New York or London runs their business. They set the territorial restriction in the metadata to whatever they like (within the contract they have with an author). If an author is frustrated by restrictions on their eBooks they should look at what they are doing with their eBook global rights.
The real question then becomes what is the point of DRM and metadata? Metadata includes core information about an ebook including price, title, blurb etc – but also territorial rights. DRM’s main purpose is to stop/ curb piracy. There would be no eBook market if the second an eBook was sold it was readily made for free. (Although booksellers and libraries have co-existed forever). However over the top DRM can also encourage piracy. If you look at the music industry, the DVD industry and even the television industry restrictions on a consumer’s access to a product or service can drive consumers towards illegal sources. DRM that ignores what the consumer wants and only addresses what the copyright holder wants is detrimental to the purpose of the DRM. If the book industry doesn’t learn the lessons of other industries then we’re all pretty foolish.
What do you think about DRM restrictions not just for eBooks but other products, in particular territorial restrictions (i.e. DVD region coding)?
See also FORMAT WARS