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Verso Books Shows That it is Possible to Use Customer-Friendly DRM While Still Calling Customers Pirates

20155523_13dfa5c00b_b[1]I have long been a supporter of milder types of DRM like digital watermarks. This DRM is more customer-friendly than encryption DRM schemes like Adobe Adept while still being equally effective at stopping piracy.

I used to see digital watermarks as a way for publishers to show that they don’t see all of their customers as potential ebook pirates, but apparently some are using the DRM and still regarding their paying customers as untrustworthy.

Verso Books, which opened their own ebookstore in March, is one such publisher.

As you may know, digital watermark is a term for a type of DRM which (usually) involves subtle additions to a file in order to mark it with identifiable info which can be traced back to the original owner. Verso Books uses a digital watermark platform provided by Booxtream, a Dutch company which also provides DRM to the Pottermore eboosktore, the official Harry Potter site.

Yesterday a reader (who for obvious reasons will not be named) forwarded a copy of an ebook purchased from Verso Books. This ebook is so full of notices that it contains DRM that it implies that the customer is needs to be constantly reminded not to pirate the ebook.

In addition to a notice at the back of the ebook (which claims there is no DRM, LOL), Verso Books also defaced the ebook with a huge splash image right after the cover that includes the buyers name and email. Also, the end of each chapter includes a footer which identifies the email of the buyer.

And that’s not all.

That footnote is also present on the title page, copyright page, TOC, bibliography, forward, the about page, and every other page in the ebook. That footnote is so prevalent that it is a slap in the face of legitimate customers. It says that customers are too stupid to be honest and have to be constantly reminded that the ebook has DRM.

Or as my source put it:

Personally, I felt like I was constantly being sent a stalker’s note saying, "I know where you live." It put me off reading the books entirely.

What I find sickening is that while they do state their use innocuous sounding and (sadly for me) not as eye-catching "watermarking," Verso’s site repeatedly makes statements such as, "Verso ebooks are free of Digital Rights Management (DRM-free)." That sample is from their ebook license.

It very much reminds me of listening to an NSA official saying that data is only "collected" when they decide to officially look in the vast collection they’ve made, that they didn’t "collect" data when they collected all our data and stored it vast digital data storage centers.

Verso Books stands as an example of how not to use DRM and how not to treat their customers. This publisher is so fearful of piracy that they have harmed the reading experience. No matter whether you are for or against the use of DRM, I am sure that we can all agree that this is not a good outcome.

image by Kris Krug

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Derrick Schultz June 7, 2014 um 11:55 am

To be fair, that’s not Verso so much as booxtream, the service they use to create the watermarking system.

Nate Hoffelder June 7, 2014 um 12:04 pm

Except the ebook I bought from Pottermore (which also uses Booxtream’s DRM) doesn’t have quite so many reminders about the DRM. It doesn’t have the splash page or the end of chapter footnotes. So you see, there are less obnoxious options than what Verso Books chose.

Basem June 7, 2014 um 6:34 pm

I purchased a book from Verso (it’s the Frantz Fanon bio by David Macey) and you do get those notices but they don’t really interfere with the reading experience, even if they are unneeded. At least you have better control over the content purchased i.e. a Kindle + epub version and pdf to download. I have a Kindle but also an Icarus eXcel & Nook HD+ and it is convenient to download and transfer the relevant e-book type for each device.

Chris Meadows June 7, 2014 um 7:55 pm

Is there a Calibre plugin or conversion option you can use to strip that stuff out?

Nate Hoffelder June 19, 2014 um 12:39 pm

I don’t know of a plugin, but a simple find and replace could probably remove the more egregious examples at the end of each chapter.

Ana June 9, 2014 um 8:00 am

I’ve bought some books from a Spanish bookstore using Booxtream and there’s no mention of the user who bought the book in each chapter. There’s a kind of ex-libris page at the beginning of the book, and a disclaimer page at the end mentioning the holder of copyright. I don’t think it isn’t customer friendly, I even like the ex-libris page, it makes the book personal, and as it mentions the bookstore, it can help to keep track where you bought the book.
Certainly, if you open the ebook to edit it, all the files have the mail of the buyer in the name of the file, with some random digits, and there are mentions to the buyer inside the files too, but I don’t think they are exactly treating you as a pirate, they have to try to keep track of the book if they find it in pirate sites.
So, answering to Chris Meadows question, it can be difficult to create a Calibre plugin to strip that stuff out, the filenames have this format:
ChapterXmyemailYYYYgmailcom.xhtml, ChapterWmyemailgmailcomZZZZ.xhtml…. where YYYY, ZZZZ are random numbers. Even css, opf and font files have the user email.
Maybe if you try converting the file with Calibre a lot of the filenames stuff would dissapear (I haven’t tried), but surely you still have to strip the marks inside the files. It would be a lot of work, less work than scanning the p-book, but still there’s a lot of work to be sure there’s no watermark left to share it to the whole world. I’m OK with it.

Luke June 10, 2014 um 3:45 pm

Seems like making a mountain out of a molehill to me. If it’s not encrypted and I don’t have to authenticate via a remote server, I don’t really care. As it is, Verso offers good value for their books- you can get both the paper and ebook bundled together for only a couple dollars more than the paper book alone. And I can read it on any device without having to crack the DRM.

ed June 12, 2014 um 2:17 am

watermarking is not as bad as other DRM schemes, but there is still a long way to go.
[1] some vendors don’t have DRM (for example O’Reilly).
[2] watermarking does modify the book.
[3] the implementation has side effects on the display on the device. For example the watermark is outside the rectangle of the text, and the page’s display is shifted to accomodate teh watermark. Which makes it difficult to zoom the page without missing a part of the text.
[4] the watermark is present on *all* pages. Really? Is that absolutely necessary?

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