Of Harry Potter and DRM

By Deane Barker on July 14, 2003

Harry Potter and the Internet Pirates: This is an interesting look at the pirating of the new Harry Potter book. For all the care taken to protect this version, the publisher failed to understanding one thing: readers can simply transcribe the text. And that’s what they did. Apparently you can download text files of the book that fans got together and typed into their computers. And software like Project Gutenberg’s distributed proofreading are just going to make this easier.

Related to this is my feeling that DRM for electronic music will fail because, no matter how much security voodoo they put into an MP3, the sound still has to come out of my speakers at some point.

I remember a Web project I did in which the last design house had audio on the site in Flash files (SWF). We couldn’t figure out how to get it out (you can’t decompile it), until we found a little piece of software that simply made audio files out of the stream sent to your sound card and out your speakers. There’s no way to DRM that.

I commend big media for trying, but I think they’re fighting a losing battle. Once you “set information free” by publishing it anywhere, there’s no way to stop someone from generating a DRM-free version. My theory has always been that big media needs to have a paradigm shift and try to figure how to live with file sharing, because it’s just not going to go away. You can’t stuff toothpaste back in the tube.



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