Pottermore DRM is Hacked – Provided by Booxtream

It never takes long for DRM to be identified and cracked, and the Harry Potter ebooks sold by Pottermore are no exception. It took a couple hours of disassembling the Epub and going over it line by line, but it's pretty clear that the digital watermarks, a benign form of social DRM, are being provided by Booxtream, a several year old Dutch tech company.

When Pottermore was announced last summer, one of its big selling points was the ebookstore where you'd find DRM-free ebooks. That promise turned out to be not completely true, but the Epubs you buy there are free of what you would expect to find in most ebookstores.

Instead they come with something called a digital watermark. These watermarks effectively are little bits of data buried inside the ebook. It's a benign form of DRM that doesn't bother the average user. Unlike other forms of DRM, a unique digital watermark is created when each copy of an ebook is generated. This lets the ebookstore add something to the ebook which can still be to track down who originally bought (and then pirated) a particular copy of an ebook.

Similar tech has been used for some time now in music, documents, and other content, but Pottermore is the first high profile ebookstore to use it (that we know of).

In the case of Pottermore, the digital watermarks are almost certainly provided by Booxtream. eReaaders.nl has taken apart an Epub and identified the particular details as being the work of that Dutch firm. I also looked into this, and my findings match theirs.

In case you're interested, the digital watermarks use by Pottermore are serial numbers added to various files. There's a warning statement on the copyright page, but the true watermarks are slightly better hidden. You can find them as strings of text in the title element of some of the images. Also, eReaders.nl identified an element in the CSS file as being from Booxtream. I believe they're referring to "boekstaaf". That's the only element that is clearly not based in English. I believe it's a Dutch name, which for obvious reasons would likely have come from a Dutch company.

Update: I'm pretty sure the file names are also used as a digital watermark. I just got my hands on a second copy of HP1 and the internal files have different names.

Booxtream has been supporting a Dutch ebookstore for the past 18 months or so, and so far as we know Pottermore is the first major use of their technology. Let's hope it's not the last. Let's also hope they also added a more subtle digital watermark; the one I found is far too easy to remove.

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16 thoughts on “Pottermore DRM is Hacked – Provided by Booxtream

  1. No matter how difficult the DRM is, it will be hacked. But if the DRM is there, but not bothersome, the average user doesn’t feel the need to hack it. Only the pirate will hack it to distribute. And they will succeed whatever you do. Even printing on paper won’t stop them…

  2. Of course social DRM is a lot better than the traditional form of DRM, but any investment in it is a waste of money for the publisher. All they are buying is a false feeling of comfort. No matter how subtle they make it, you can get rid of this type of DRM simply by converting the book to txt format. Anyone can do that e.g. using Calibre, no special tools are needed. (OK, you loose the formatting, but Harry Potter and a lot of other fiction is all about the text of the book.)

    1. Actually, it’s quite feasible to watermark pure text. You can for example add extraneous spaces ( s) to the end of paragraphs. Still simple to remove, of course, but you must as always know what you are looking for.
      And that is the crux of watermarks. It will presumably have multiple layers, some obvious, some not. Good watermarking ensures you will never be 100% sure you’ve removed it all.

  3. Ugh, you guys are using the term DRM only to drive traffic … and it worked because I’m here.

    “Social DRM” is a term cooked up to make watermarking an easier sell to people that insist on “DRM”. Does my money have DRM to crack because it includes a watermark? Does an iPod have DRM because it has the user’s name on the about screen? Does my car include DRM because of the etched VIN? I proclaim that they do not.

    So let’s get past that nonsense … is there anything hostile toward the customer about watermarking? I can still use the product in any way I wish, including, as Zetmolm points out, converting to another format that will almost certainly strip the marking. The fight should be for consumer rights, and these systems do not inhibit any that I can see.

    If these systems included a per-unit cost that drives up the end price of the book, then you have a valid argument. But if the retailer wishes to add “this book originally purchased by Maurice Sendak” to the title page and it doesn’t cost a penny, then where has the retailer gone wrong?

    1. Adding watermarks does add cost, yes. The software on Pottermore’s servers cost money to develop and it costs money to run it each time you download an ebook.

      And no, I used the word DRM in the title because I couldn’t think of one that would fit as well. Also, I know people who would insist that it is DRM.

        1. I bet that the Harry Potter books would cost the same with the watermarking DRM or with Adobe DRM or without the DRM.

  4. well Nate, I was wrong… it doesn’t mean “bookmark” exactly.
    It’s a conjugation of the verb “boekstaven”, which means “to record or to chronicle”.
    So maybe it is some kind of record in CSS or XML?
    I’m not very fluent in either, so I don’t know.

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