Adobe: We Didn’t Mean to Use DRM to Break Your eBook Readers

Good Adobe Digital Editionsnews! Adobe announced late this afternoon that they won’t be breaking a lot of ebook readers in July.

According to the Datalogics blog, Adobe has decided to revise the adoption timeline for their new DRM, and they will no longer be requiring all ebook retailers, app developers, and device makers to upgrade their DRM support by July 2014:

After receiving feedback from customers and webinar attendees, Adobe has revised the migration timetable for customers.  “Adobe does not plan to stop support for ACS 4 or RMSDK 9.  ACS 5 books will be delivered to the older RMSDK 9 based readers”, according to Shameer Ayyappan, Senior Product Manager at Adobe.  “We will let our resellers and publishers decide when they wish to set the DRM flag on ACS 5, thus enforcing the need for RMSDK 10 based readers.”

If you’re just tuning in, news broke yesterday that Adobe was going to require ebook retailers and developers to upgrade to the recently release Adobe Content Server 5 by July 2014. ACS 5 supports a new type of DRM which is not compatible with existing ebook apps and ereaders, thus forcing everyone to upgrade or replace their hardware, or they will lose access to their legally purchased content.

This would have hurt readers, indie ebook retailers, and probably helped Amazon, Google, and Kobo. Yesterday I was the first to report about the many problems this would cause, both to me and to other readers, so I am especially pleased that Adobe changed their mind.

Nate Hoffelder

View posts by Nate Hoffelder
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader. He has been blogging about indie authors since 2010 while learning new tech skills weekly. He fixes author sites, and shares what he learns on The Digital Reader's blog. In his spare time, he fosters dogs for A Forever Home, a local rescue group.


  1. MikeJ4 February, 2014

    What I worry about is the bit about letting publishers decide to set the flag. The paranoid part of me thinks Adobe may just be deciding to let the publishers be the assholes here, and that we’re going to end up with a patchwork of book availability and different Adobe DRM Schemes across different stores.

    Hopefully, it’s cracked soon. That way there will be no real value in switching.

    1. TheSFReader5 February, 2014

      Absolutely, This. Except it’s not publishers that get to be the assholes, it’s the e-resellers who’ll get the brunt of it, after having made the move under the publisher’s pressure.

      Most probably, the DRM flag is wholesale, so it suffices one publisher to insist for the “hardened” DRM, and every DRMed ebook sold through that channem will be infected with it.

      I’m not sure resellers have taken plan to disclose which version of the DRMs they sell too…

      1. Juli Monroe5 February, 2014

        This was exactly my thought when I read about Adobe’s announcement. Seems to me that this could end up a big mess as some stores and/or publishers insist on the new DRM while others don’t. Leaving readers stuck with “will I be able to read this book or not” on a case by case basis.

  2. Common Sense4 February, 2014

    This is one of the reasons why I always strip the DRM from my ebooks. I don’t pirate, I don’t illegally share, but I want to protect my purchases.

    1. Nate Hoffelder4 February, 2014

      Me too!

    2. Ed Bear5 February, 2014

      I have the same attitude. Don’t pirate, but I WILL choose WHAT I read, WHERE I read, and HOW I read.

      If I can’t jailbreak it, I don’t buy it.

    3. Dan5 February, 2014

      Exactly! We just hope there is someone with the ability out there to crack the new one so we can do the same to new books.

  3. Sheogorath5 February, 2014

    This is why I get ebooks from Project Gutenberg and other such sites. No Digital Restrictions Malware, no problem, and the buggers can’t put the ‘lost’ revenue down to infringement activities because I’m not engaging in any by downloading Public Domain and CC licensed texts.

  4. anon5 February, 2014

    The same video already said that ACS5 books will render in RMSDK9 and lower. It was already planned for it to be backwards compatible (check around minute 17). This is a clarification not an update.

    Also there is no way for publishers to communicate this flag you talk about it. Check the ONIX standard.

    1. Nate Hoffelder5 February, 2014

      “ACS5 books will render in RMSDK9 and lower”

      Perhaps, but a later section made it clear that once the hardened DRM was applied the ebooks would not be compatible with RMSDK9. And come July, ebook retailers would be required to apply the new DRM.

      The presentation was rather confusing, which is why I found 3 experts who agreed with my interpretation.

  5. Mik Finkel5 February, 2014

    Call me silly but I was a mostly dedicated nook person. B&N is forcing me to go to Amazon. I wish I could figure out how to strip the DRM. What a mess. It may be easiest to just go back to the used book stores in the end.

    1. Ed Howell5 February, 2014

      Go to, you can purchase a program that will strip the Nook DRM. They also have programs available for Kinkle, Kobo and others.

    2. Ed Bear5 February, 2014

      Go get a copy of Calibre eBook Manager. Then google for Apprentice Alf and pick up the plugin.

  6. Andrew5 February, 2014

    Why post this stuff at all? (Adobe, not you Nate.)

    Only an idiot would be surprised at the anger people feel when their newish devices are made obsolete (bonus points for blaming it on pirates, while punishing us non-pirates). Furthermore, this cannot be simple taken back – once people lose trust in DRM or publishers, it won’t come back, at least not quickly.

    Anyone else read the last article, then take a look at how to get legal/free books, or which vendors are DRM-free? I did, and even if nothing changes by Adobe, Kobo or Amazon, I’ll now always be thinking about buying from Baen, Tor or other DRM-free sources before looking for a book on the DRM-protected vendor sites.

    1. bretperrt5 February, 2014

      “once people lose trust in DRM or publishers” — LOL, for me that was in the ’80s when the first “copy protection” schemes were added to some apps.

      I always seek out DRM-free items and will gladly pay more for them when available.

  7. Mik Finkel5 February, 2014

    Hey Ed Howell, Have you used the drm removal tool? If so, how good did it work for you? Thanks.

    1. Annie5 February, 2014

      The tools to remove DRM were released as open-source and are available freely from Apprentice Alf’s blog (Google Apprentice Alf ebooks). There’s clear instructions and the developer is still active and releases regular updates and helps users with issues.

      Anyone who asks you to pay for these tools is probably running a scam. There is absolutely no reason to do that.

  8. Mik Finkel5 February, 2014

    Annie, I have looked at Alf’s info and could not figure it out. Maybe he has made it more simple since I last saw it.

    1. A fan of Alf5 February, 2014

      The easiest might be to install the free and open source ebook management software calibre, and then follow Alf’s instruction on how to install the plugins. After that DRM removal is automatic when importing to calibre. You can export the decrypted file immediately, you don’t have to use calibre for anything else if you don’t want to.

      1. TheSFReader5 February, 2014

        Just to add a little detail to thois otherwise excellent summary : Apprentice Alf’s tools works by accessing the legitimate keys in your legitimately Adobe/Kindle/ etc. installed and configured software, and using those keys to decrypt the files.

        So you need a legitimately installed and fonctionning software for it to work. And also I think it doesn’t work on some hardware/software cofigurations.

  9. Mik Finkel5 February, 2014

    Thanks A fan of Alf

  10. Kaetrin5 February, 2014

    I’ve heard that Kobo has a different DRM set up and doesn’t use Adobe. But I use Apprentice Alf’s tools to strip the DRM off of all of my legally purchased books so that they remain mine. When I strip DRM off Kobo books I use the inept epub python tool which is the same one I’d use for any epub file (except B&N where I don’t shop anyway). Doesn’t that mean that the DRM is the same?

    1. Nate Hoffelder5 February, 2014

      So far as I know Kobo doesn’t use Adobe DRM internally. They use their own DRM, and they also use their own funky non-Epub ebook format.

      Kobo only support Adobe DRM at the edges of their system in order to support customers who want to read on a different ebook app or ebook reader.The files you downloaded and stripped came wrapped in Adobe DRM because the DRM was added as they left Kobo’s servers.

      1. Kaetrin5 February, 2014

        Hmmm. That seems strange to me because the epub files which have DRM on it are downloaded via an acsm files which loads into Adobe DE and I use the inept files to strip the DRM. Maybe it is publisher based?

        1. TheSFReader6 February, 2014

          No, it’s not tied to the publisher. If you download it yourself from the website, it serves you, you’re (as Nate states) on the edge, and they need to make sure they give you something “interoperable”, hence an epub Adobe-DRM file.

          But if you use a Kobo platform and synchronize, the file that is sent from the server to yourplatform is different. First it is a Kobo-flavoured epub file (aka kepub), slightly doctored to provide an enhanced experience on the reader.

          But in that case it also has the kobo DRM instead of the Adobe one, since they are sure you use Kobo software/hardware, which they control all right.

          1. Kaetrin6 February, 2014

            I think I’m missing something here… – so Kobo uses 2 sets of DRM? Adobe DE for that which is downloaded from their site to a PC and their kepub for that which is downloaded directly to a Kobo device? That doesn’t seem very efficient.

            Does that mean that they will flip the switch for the ADE 3.0 and it will only effect content downloaded from their site to a PC?

  11. Dave Trowbridge6 February, 2014

    Meanwhile, we at Book View Cafe, a book publishing cooperative run by and for authors, are chortling over the spectacle of Adobe further advancing our plans for world domination. We’ve never had DRM on our books, and never will.

    Yeah, it’s a pain to have to send takedown notices to obscure sites that post our authors’ works from time to time, and we might even lose some sales, but the point of publishing for our members–all well-established genre writers who were or are traditionally published–is to get books into our readers’ hands…and keep them there. We’d rather write than act as literary jailers. Life’s too short.

    (Also, you might be surprised just how much tsuris is involved in getting even unlocked, bog-standard ebook files to install and display correctly on all devices. I don’t even want to think about the impact of adding DRM.)

    Disclosure: I am at present VP of Book View Cafe, but this is my own opinion, not BVC’s, and other members of BVC might speak differently to the subject.

    1. Sheogorath7 February, 2014

      We’ve never had DRM on our books, and never will.
      For which I respect your company.
      You might be surprised just how much tsuris is involved in getting even unlocked, bog-standard ebook files to install and display correctly on all devices. I don’t even want to think about the impact of adding DRM.
      And that is only a part of why. Companies like yours really seem to get it, and larger ones have lessons to learn from the way you run things.

    2. Nate Hoffelder7 February, 2014

      “Also, you might be surprised just how much tsuris is involved in getting even unlocked, bog-standard ebook files to install and display correctly on all devices.”

      At this point I would not be surprised. I’m beginning to wonder whether Kobo, Google, and Apple had the right idea when they choose to use their own ebook formats on their respective platforms.

      Maybe they faced the display problems you mention, and their solutions involved using a custom ebook format?

    3. A fan of Alf7 February, 2014

      I applaud your sensibility in this matter. As it stands, the best thing one can do is to rely on the many, many honest customers who think it’s fair to pay for a book they will enjoy (I am certainly among them). Of course there are some people who wouldn’t have given you a dime no matter what, but will still get hold of your book, DRM or not. I believe it’s a sound strategy to be nice to the people who are actually sending money your way 🙂

  12. Maria (BearMountainBooks)9 February, 2014

    I’m already seeing some readers (not e-readers, but actual people) having trouble getting certain books to download to their Kobo devices. And Kobo seems unable to fix it, but on support forums I’m reading it has to do with the version of ePUB and/or version of DRM that were uploaded by the publisher. Okay, that isn’t a good technical explanation because I don’t understand it well myself. What I do know is that I’m seeing readers complain at my blog that they buy books and they won’t download to their device and they are being asked to try it to “x app for PC” instead. This is a huge problem.

    Luckily it isn’t an issue for my books (I control the epub) but it is eye opening. I had nothing against publishers putting DRM on a product. There are ways around it for those who make purchases and want or need to go to the trouble. But this idea of just bricking a whole bunch of devices/books? Unbelievable. Stupid too.

    I’ve been considering a Kobo device. But I do NOT want to EVER spend an hour accessing or troubleshooting a book before starting to read. I just don’t. One of the things that made kindle such a huge success so quickly was ease of use and instant access.

    1. fjtorres9 February, 2014

      The perils of a divided user experience.
      With the walled gardens there is only one point of responsibility.
      Things are going to get messy in epubland this year.

  13. Riflessioni sull’editoria digitale | Digital Corner6 May, 2014

    […] Adobe: We Didn’t Mean to Use DRM to Break Your eBook Readers – […]

  14. Jennifer Liu14 July, 2014

    Adobe Digital Editions Communications Error When Downloading PDF:

    If you get an “error getting license server communication problem” message in Adobe Digital Editions:

    1. Try downloading any of the PDF files from Adobe here:

    2. If you are succesful with step 1, now redownload the PDF book from Overdrive

    3. Enjoy!! 🙂

  15. Adobe stelt verplichte upgrade DRM-software uit na kritiek – IP | vakblad voor informatieprofessionals26 July, 2017

    […] Bron: The Digital Reader […]


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