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Sony Launches New eBook DRM

4900724621_55872b9c60_bSony has opened a new chapter in its long history as a DRM pioneer.

The news is a little late crossing my desk, but two weeks ago Sony announced a new partnership with Immanens, a French company which develops distribution technology for digital publishing companies. Immanens will adopt Sony’s new URMS (User Rights Management System) DRM in the platforms it develops for third parties.

Under development since 2011, URMS is based on an ebook DRM standard created by the Marlin Development Community. The standard is touted as being more flexible and more secure than either industry standard Kindle DRM or the Adobe DRM used on EPub ebooks and some PDFs.

According to what I was told in October 2014 and January 2015, Sony’s new DRM supports a variety of business models and uses, including lending, gifting, sharing, and (assuming the publishers will go along with it) reselling ebooks. The platform is also designed so libraries can loan ebooks for a variable length of time and readily renew loaned ebooks (this is not so easy under OverDrive).

The platform also has benefits for users. Sony told me last year that consumers will be able to combine all of their ebooks on to a "common bookshelf". Library ebooks, gifted ebooks, and ebooks purchased from stores which support URMS DRM can be stored on a common bookshelf and then transferred to any compatible device.

Given that we know of exactly one company which will be using the DRM, it’s not clear how that common bookshelf will work out in practice, nor is it clear whether the DRM will be more secure than its competition.

Sony boasted to PW that URMS will offer increased security. Based on the assumption that any widely used DRM will be hacked, URMS is designed so that it can be updated with patches that repair any security holes found and exploited by hackers.

That is not a new concept in the history of DRM, and it hasn’t worked out well in the past. Amazon, for example, has repeatedly updated its Kindle DRM over the past 7 years, and as a result it now has to support multiple generations of Kindle DRM which are still being used on discontinued Kindle models.

Not so coincidentally, Sony has also used DRM updates to try to keep DVDs secure. There’s no evidence that the technique was effective, but I do know of at least one occasion where consumers got screwed.

In 2007 Sony started distributing DVDs which used a new flavor of DRM and neglected to make sure that all the DVD player manufacturers had updated their firmwares.  A lot of customers complained on Techdirt, Slashdot, and elsewhere that their newly purchased DVDs wouldn’t play on their DVD players.

Sony did eventually fix that problem. Let’s hope that they also found a way to avoid a similar problem with URMS. Let’s also hope that the new DRM is flawless, otherwise it’s going to vanish into a crowded market with nary a peep.

Sony is planning to license its DRM to tech companies in the educational, corporate, and library markets, but there is also a chance that it might also show up in the consumer ebook market as well.

While conventional wisdom says that the ebook market is dominated by 3 DRM platforms (Kindle, iBooks, and Adobe DE), that is not strictly true. Many of the smaller ebook platforms, including Google, Kobo, Scribd, Oyster, and Logos (to name a few), use a unique type of DRM internally (Google and Kobo support Adobe DE DRM as well).

The current market fragmentation suggests the possibility that Sony might license URMS to a new entrant in to the consumer ebook market.

"We’re not pretending we’re going to replace proprietary systems at Amazon and Apple," Spiros Rally, the VP of DigitalWorks at Sony DADC, told PW. "However, we do think that we offer a powerful alternative for trade publishing in the library space, and around direct-to-consumer sales."

images  by rebopper_Max-B

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Ingo Lembcke April 6, 2015 um 6:27 am

Flawless DRM? Talk about an oxymoron!
DRM IS the flaw.

Name (required) April 6, 2015 um 7:42 am

I can’t wait to invest money in books with a DRM from Sony.
Sony is notably known for:
– being incompatible with anybody else to an extent they think they can still get away with,
– being overpriced – especially for the level of innovation and quality they have nowadays,
– leaving their customers high and dry – does anybody remember their LRX format? Sony Minidisk? …
– distributing CDs infested with Sony Rootkit disguised as DRM.

By the way, Nate. If my memory serves me right, the DRM on their LRX format has never been broken. They sold DRMed LRF books with the extension *.lrx for their Sony PRS-500 e-ink readers. Later they shifted to epub formats and you could mail in your PRS-500 e-ink reader to have firmware flashed to support epub. Unfortunately that did not work for me and many other people from outside USA. I was lucky I couldn’t mail in my Sony e-ink reader, because there was problem with the new firmware.

How can people read their epub books purchased at the Sony e-book store (not functional any more) in their existing devices, now that Sony doesn’t sell e-ink readers anymore?

neuse river sailor April 6, 2015 um 8:15 am

Sony has screwed up so many times that they are guilty until proven innocent in my eyes. I think it is fair to assume that any Sony DRM will have a backdoor in place for the convenience of hackers.

And it is such a shame, because once upon a time they built some of the best consumer electronics around. And maybe they still do, but I will never know, because after the rootkit stunt I swore off buying anything Sony – forever.

Doug April 6, 2015 um 3:52 pm

Add me to the "Never again Sony" crowd after the disaster of their Reader Store closing. I’d already had enough earlier problems with them. That company is a mess.

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