Yes, even Amazon's DRM sucks

If it looks like DRM, and smells like DRM, then it IS DRM!
Written by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, Senior Contributing Editor

Thinking of buying an Amazon Kindle or Kindle Fire for yourself or as a gift over the holidays? You might want to think again, because Amazon's DRM (Digital Rights Management) policies stink just as bad as everyone else's DRM policies.

Exhibit A:

The Consumerist tells the story of Ryan. Ryan has been a Kindle owner for a year, but for the last month he's been locked out of his Kindle account by Amazon. Here's the kicker:

I no longer have access to the nearly $1000 in Kindle content I have purchased.

And it seems that no one at Amazon can help Ryan:

I have filed a complaint with the BBB, emailed everyone I could at Amazon, called the Customer Service Line, the Kindle "Executive" support line, and Corporate. I have been apologized to by everyone I have spoken to and been told that they have never seen this situation before.

Hmmm, I've heard from quite a few people who have been locked out of their Kindle accounts in the past, but none on this scale. You might also remember when Amazon took the Orwellian step of deleting copies of Animal Farm and 1984 off Kindles with no warning.

The depressing part:

None of them can tell me if I will ever receive the content I have paid for.

Come on Amazon, you can at least refund the guy's money!

So who really owns that digital content you've paid good money for?

Exhibit B:

Next up, a piece by Joe Wikert. Now Wikert knows a thing or two about the publishing business because he's the general manager and publisher at O'Reilly Media. Prior to that he was VP and executive publisher at John Wiley & Sons.

Amazon has a default maximum of 6 devices for any given Kindle ebook. Once you try to get it onto the 7th device you're greeted with an error message saying, "License Limit Reached", and they nudge you to buy another copy of the product. No way. I already bought it once and I'm not buying it again.

This is yet another example of why DRM sucks. Someone decided 6 was a magical number and so no title can be read across more than 6 devices. Sure, I could de-register or maybe even just delete the book from one or two of my older devices but why should I have to?!

You might find it harder to have sympathy for Wikert given that he's not lost access to his media or anything, but he has a point. That six device limitation is arbitrary. It's a number pulled out of the air. What annoys me more than the limit is the nudge to buy another copy. While the limit annoys me, I understand that there has to be one, but the attempt to get you to repurchase something based on that arbitrary limit is offensive.

Amazon, you need to tidy up your act!

DRM sucks because users get, at best, an illusion of ownership. Buy a book or CD or a DVD and you have that content until you lose it, bust it, or pass it on to someone else. But with virtual DRMed content, you're at best borrowing it and you can lose access to your paid for content in a heartbeat. All it takes if for the company to go out of business, your PC to get wiped or for someone somewhere to make a bone-headed decision and press the wrong button somewhere and your content is gone in the blink of an eye. If you’re lucky you get your money back, but I know plenty of people who are out of pocket thanks to DRM.

If it looks like DRM, and smells like DRM, then it IS DRM!

Image creditMarcin Wichary
Disclosure: I wrote several titles for John Wiley & Sons while Wikert was VP of the company.

Editorial standards