Talking tech since 2003

When you download an e-book from Amazon, iBooks, the Nook Store or the Play Store, you might assume that the words in that e-book are the same words used in the print version. A group of German researchers would like to do away with that simple notion, introducing a DRM method called SiDiM that will change text and punctuation inside e-books to create a “watermark.” Each e-book will apparently be changed in a unique way, so that if an e-book file winds up online for all the world to download, it can be traced back to the original owner (who would presumably face legal trouble).

This kind of technology can pose some issues. First off, leaving it up to technology to change a word or phrase into another similar word or phrase is asking for trouble. The English language has many, many words that can mean one thing or another depending on context, and should this technology insert a word that doesn’t make sense in the context of a particular sentence, misunderstandings are very possible.

taleoftwocitiesAnd I don’t even want to think about what would happen to technical books. Could you see a book on HTML switching out “strong” for “bold”? We could be teaching an entire class of future Web developers how to code like it’s 1995 again.

There are some ethical issues that creep up in my mind, as well. It doesn’t seem okay to change a quote that is attributed to another person, but this technology seems to make that possible. And the willingness of researchers and booksellers to change the written words someone worked so hard to string together? That just rubs me the wrong way. The iconic opening to A Tale of Two Cities could be altered to read “It was the finest of times, it was the worst of times…” all in the name of preventing piracy. Does that seem okay to you? I don’t think it is.

SiDiM has two German partners signed on to use the DRM technology — 4Readers and MVB — but thankfully, it doesn’t appear that any of the U.S. stores are signed on yet. For what it’s worth, I can’t see them adopting this technology without facing some serious backlash from both readers and writers. But this is definitely something to keep an eye on.

I’d love to know what you think. Does SiDiM sound as awful as I think it is, or does this seem like a smart way to protect e-books from being heavily pirated? Leave your thoughts down below.

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