The Fraunhofer Institute, a German research firm with the motto "we forge the future", is now working on a new type of digital watermark DRM. They want to move beyond the existing techniques of adding digital watermarks to the metadata and extraneous text of an ebook and instead embed identifying details inside the body of the ebook.
In short, this new DRM (SiDiM, or "Sichere Dokumente durch individuelle Markierung") would make changes to the story as written by the author with the intention of changing each customer's copy in a unique way. The goal would be to find identifiers so that a copy could be traced back to the original buyer.
On a technical level it is an interesting idea, and one that isn't exactly new. This kind of security has been used on a small scale (for example) when firms wanted to track who was leaking documents. I do not know that it has ever been used on a large commercial scale before, however.
I read about this over at lesen.net, and was lucky to find that they had linked to a example sheet from Fraunhofer. The example sheet was in German, of course, but the possible changes were presented in A/B pairs and that made it easy to see the differences. Possible changes could include inserting extraneous returns, reordering items in a list, and altering the negation element used in the story (inconsistent to not consistent, etc).
I don't know about you but I think this is a terrible idea. SiDiM is nothing less than security at the expense of art, and I do believe that the solution is worse than the problem.
Never mind that this would completely screw up the art of literary analysis; it could also drastically and randomly change the reading experience.
I don't claim to be a terribly gifted writer but I do know that a change as subtle as reordering a list can change the intended emphasis of that list or the cadence of a sentence; it can lead a reader to think the author is implying something different. Splitting up a paragraph so the first or last sentence stands alone can emphasize that sentence in a way the author did not intend.
And as for negation, I have the strong suspicion that whoever came up with this idea doesn't have a subtle enough grasp of the language to know that words like inconsistent, unarmed, and invisible have subtly different meanings from not consistent, not armed, and not visible, respectively.
Fortunately this DRM is still in the developmental stages. There is a consortium that is working on the design, implementation and validation, of the SiDiM architecture. Curiously enough, one member of the consortium is a law firm specializing in IP. It's not clear what that firm contributes; perhaps the developers had ethical objections to testing on rats.
I don't have any info on when this DRM might see widespread use, but if the early response is any indication I doubt that we will need to worry. This story might not have gotten a lot of coverage in English but it has been heavily debated on German digital publishing blogs.
Few book lovers liked the idea, with many raising the same objections I have raised in this post. I hope that will be enough to prevent very many publishers and ebookstores from adopting SiDiM.
image by bensmawfield