We’ve seen countless examples of files vanishing when a service shuts down, an account is closed, or a retailer takes away the download button, and now Brnes & Noble has given us yet another example of why it would be better to say that a DRMed ebook is borrowed rather than purchased.
Writing over at Teleread, Chris Meadows writes “I bought my first e-book in 1998, before my e-reading hardware had even arrived yet. Yesterday I discovered that Barnes & Noble has effectively stolen that book from me, mistakenly replacing it it in my Nook library with another title I never bought.”
But imagine my surprise when I found that, rather than the original version, I had the BookRags A Fire Upon the Deep study guide in my library—an off-brand Cliff’s Notes on the book—instead. I never bought said study guide, because I don’t buy study guides. Apparently somewhere along the way Barnes & Noble got confused over titles and substituted it. The original book itself was nowhere to be found.
I wasn’t too concerned—I still have both editions safely in my Calibre library on Dropbox—but I was bemused. I decided to contact Barnes & Noble chat support and see what they could do for me. After I explained the problem, the representative told me that I could go ahead and purchase A Fire Upon the Deep if I wanted, and offered to give me the link.
Based on similar reports, the substitution probably occurred in 2011 when B&N closed Fictionwise and shifted customers’ ebooks over to the Nook platform, but given the generally flaky state of the B&N website and servers last year, it could really have happened at any time.
This, folks, is why the first thing you should do after buying an ebook or any other type of digital content is to strip the DRM, and make a back up copy.
As Cory Doctorow said, if you can’t open it, you don’t own it.
When you buy a physical book, said Doctorow, you own that book. You can lend it to friends, give it away, or even sell it. But when you buy an ebook, you license it. Depending upon the source you purchased an ebook from, you may only have the right/ability to read it on a single device or type of device. It often comes with Digital Rights Management attached, he noted, so you cannot make any changes that will allow you to read your ebook on other devices or loan it or transfer it to someone else. You can’t even save it and open it independently of its original intended environment.
“If you can’t open it, you don’t own it,” he declared.
The only way to guarantee you can open a DRMed ebook is to strip the DRM.
image by marc kjerland