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BooXtream Now Working on Watermark DRM for Kindle eBooks

A lot of publishers fear Amazon but virtually all will admit that they have to have their ebooks avaialble for the Kindle. And since Amazon was the only seller of DRM-ed Kindle ebooks, publishers either had to go commando (and give up on DRM) or sell via the Kindle Store.

This is one of the many less than pleasant changes Amazon made when building the Kindle platform out of Mobipocket, and fairly soon publishers will have a third option.

Publishing Perspectives is reporting today that the Dutch DRM specialists at BooXtream are working on a new version of their watermark type of DRM. This firm, which is chiefly known for providing the social DRM used by Pottermore, the Harry Potter ebookstore, is hoping to offer publishers a new set of tools which will enable them to add digital watermarks to Kindle ebooks.

Digital watermarks, a term which is often used interchangeably with social DRM, is a less intrusive way to lock down a file. It’s already widely used in audiobooks and mp3, but it’s still only rarely used in ebooks. Publishers and distributors use it by adding bits of data to an existing file. In the case of ebooks, these digital watermarks might be strings of text inserted into the text of an ebook, adding to internal file names, or placed as the title metadata for images. While this doesn’t act as a deterrent to pirating an ebook, it does let a publisher track down the original buyer of an ebook should it show up on a pirate site.

This type of DRM wouldn’t help any for ebooks sold via the Kindle Store, but it would open up the possibility of publishers distributing their ebooks via a new ebookstore which sold the Kindle format. “Since sideloading ebooks on a Kindle is very easy, publishers really do not have to publish their title in the Amazon shop. They can sell it from their own website instead. But these .mobi files are unprotected. Having their titles watermarked and personalized will be a big plus for them,” says Huub van de Pol, manager of BooXtream.

I’ve long been a fan of digital watermarks as an alternative DRM for the simple fact that DRM is far too easy to remove. As I’ve shown in my post which explains how to install a DRM removal plugin in calibre, the process is now dead simple. What’s more, there are a bunch of other ways to remove DRM from ebooks, with some options being almost as easy.

The more strict forms of DRM have long since stopped being effective at their task, so now would be a good time to look for a new alternative which won’t be quite such a hassle for legitimate users.

BooXtream is a spinoff of Icontact, a Dutch company which has been providing digital watermarking for Dutch audiobook distributors since 2006. BooXtream was launched in 2010 with deals with several Dutch ebook publishers, but it only really got noticed this spring when I revealed that BooXtream provided the DRM for Pottermore.

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Xyzzy September 25, 2012 um 7:58 am

I seem to recall reading much earlier this year that the watermark DRM turned out to be extremely easy to circumvent; I can’t remember if I saw it here or on another tech, blog, though. I just faintly recall that the guy that posted it had done something very similar at an earlier point, used a hex editor (I think) to compare two people’s copies of the same book and thus was able to find/alter/remove the flags fairly easily.

I strongly dislike DRM for the main reason that the article of the "Going Blind?" article in Tuesday’s Morning Coffee post covers — people interested in pirating aren’t affected by it, so the people that *aren’t* interested in illegal sharing (but have other reasons to want a DRM-free copy) are adversely affected for little reason. I’m curious whether this new form hampers anything that those lawful users might want to do — use accessibility software that doesn’t support DRM, format-shift so they can move their library to a newer device, so on and so forth.

Nate Hoffelder September 25, 2012 um 8:06 am

I didn’t know that someone had used a hex editor, but I did know that the DRM was trivial to identify.

If that really was how they removed this DRM then surprisingly, they put more work into it than is usually required to strip Adobe or Kindle DRM.

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