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Breaking Non-News: eBook Sellers Strike Deal To Share Customer Details With Anti-Piracy Outfit

BREIN's Phase II Plan

BREIN’s Phase II Plan

Torrent Freak picked up a news story out of the Netherlands yesterday, only I don’t understand why this qualifies as news:

A new digital distribution agreement for eBook platforms will formalize a system for identifying customers whose purchases later appear on the Internet. The deal will see eBook sellers watermark digital downloads and log them against specific customer accounts. That data will be kept for a minimum of two years just in case books appear on file-sharing sites. If they do, vendors will hand over customer details to rightsholders and anti-piracy outfit BREIN.


The agreement will see vendors connected to the eBoekhuis platform share previously-private customer data directly with copyright holders and anti-piracy group BREIN. This means that should digital books turn up on BitTorrent networks or Usenet for example, with a minimum of fuss BREIN will be able to match the embedded watermarks with the customer who bought them.

The reason I am confused here is that I don’t see what is "new" about this news story. I thought this was happening all along.

The whole point about digital watermarks was that these bits of unique data would be added to content before it is downloaded by a customer. Each digital watermark is coded for a particular customer so if a file shows up on a pirate website the digital watermark could pin down who originally bought the file so they can be sued/prosecuted.

Digital watermarks have been used in ebooks in the Netherlands since mid-2011, so I had assumed that someone was tracking whether the watermarked content showed up on pirate websites and then pursued the pirates.

If you don’t follow through on that last step then the whole process was a waste of money. And who better to pursue pirates than an anti-piracy group?

I’ll admit that I don’t have any respect for BREIN, a Hollywood-funded organization which has been caught committing piracy. But they are still a semi-legitimate anti-piracy outfit so it would make sense for them to pursue ebook pirates.

That said, I do have one concern. I wonder whether this agreement violates European privacy laws, but I don’t know enough about the relevant laws so I am unable to comment.

Does anyone know if the privacy laws will be an issue here?

image by US Govt

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Don Frye August 14, 2013 um 9:10 am

I for one see a lot of problems with an anti-piracy company getting access to customer records at ANOTHER COMPANY. If they want this information, let them get it via court order like in any other situation.

How is this different from BREIN doing a deal with ISPs and having them hand over your personal details too, all without a court order? Maybe I should just ask PayPal for your name, address, phone number and monthly spend details also 🙂

Nothing personal, but you get the idea 🙂

Rebecca Allen August 14, 2013 um 2:06 pm

"Digital watermarks have been used in ebooks in the Netherlands since mid-2011, so I had assumed that someone was tracking whether the watermarked content showed up on pirate websites and then pursued the pirates."

I think there was an implementation lag. It may have been difficult to convince ebook distributors and e-book shops to agree to passing the information along (more importantly: to including it in their vendor/customer agreements, which presumably will deter some fraction of business which might have made a difference early in the adoption curve) before there was definite evidence that watermarked stuff was really showing up on torrent sites. There were skeptics that watermarking would be effective, the idea being that no one would be stupid enough to leave the watermark in when uploading a file they had bought in an identifiable way.

W. Yu August 14, 2013 um 5:05 pm

I think this is a fair way to implement anti-piracy. I know that there are many programs out there for self-publishers and internet marketers selling e-books that will digitally watermark PDFs that are sold from websites.

This method seems a bit more sophisticated in that it provides at least one level of anonymity rather than just watermarking the users name and e-mail address across the page.

Does anyone know how the watermark is contained within the PDF? Is it only in meta data or is it a true watermark that is splashed across background of every page (something that would be more difficult to strip, but more annoying to readers)?

Johnny Pearseed August 15, 2013 um 7:06 am

Although I think digital watermarks are a good alternative to DRM, BREIN is a very scary organization indeed. This is enough to make me stop buying ebooks from Dutch publishers altogether. Surely that cannot have been their intention?

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