There’s a story going around the blogosphere that Princeton is experimenting with DRMed e-textbooks. Here’s an example:
Princeton University, intellectual home of Edward Felten and Alex Halderman, has evidently begun to experiment with DRM’d textbooks. According to this post, there are quite a few digital restrictions being managed:
- Textbook is locked to the computer where you downloaded it from;
- Copying and burning to CD is prohibited;
- Printing is limited to small passages;
- Unless otherwise stated, textbook activation expires after 5 months (*gasp*);
- Activated textbooks are not returnable;
- Buyback is not possible.
There an official press release from the publishers for download here.
Several people have written, asking for my opinion on this.
First, a correction. As far as I can tell, Princeton University has no part in this experiment. The Princeton University Store, a bookstore that is located on the edge of the campus but is not affiliated with the University, will be the entity offering DRMed textbooks. The DRM company’s press release tries to leave the impression that Princeton University itself is involved, but this appears to be incorrect.
In any case, I don’t see a reason to object to the U-Store offering these e-books, as long as students are informed about the DRM limitations and can still get the dead-tree version instead. It’s hard to see the value proposition for students in the DRMed version, unless the price is very low. It appears the price will be about two-thirds of the new-book price, which is obviously a bad deal. Our students are smart enough to know which version to buy – and the faculty will be happy to advise them if they’re not sure.
I don’t object to other people wasting their money developing products that consumers won’t want. People waste their money on foolish schemes every day. I wish for their sake that they would be smarter. But why should I object to this product or try to stop it? A product this weak will die on its own.
The problem with DRM is not that bad products can be offered, but that public policy sometimes protects bad products by thwarting the free market and the free flow of ideas. The market will kill DRM, if the market is allowed to operate.
UPDATE (August 12): The DRM vendor announced yesterday that usage restrictions will be eased somewhat. The expiration time has been extended to at least twelve months (longer for some publishers), and restrictions on printing have been loosened in some cases.