On Digital Rights (And An Announcement!)

When people ask what I do, it's fun to say that "I write." But I do have a day job. I'm good at my day job. Writing doesn't pay the bills. Not yet, anyways. My two pursuits are at odds on the issue of digital rights management, but my day job won that battle.

Currently, I'm an administrator in the Office of Disability Services at Suffolk University (my alma mater) in Boston. I'm also the chair of the Assistive Technology committee for the New England affiliate of AHEAD (Association  on Higher Education and Disability). I present both regionally and nationally on the topics of assistive and emerging technology usage for students with disabilities. Right now, I'm even in the throes of developing a graduate course on the stuff. That's my perspective.

Digital Rights Management (disclaimer - I'm not an expert on the nuances of it) offers you, the author, a level of control over unpaid distribution of your work. It essentially locks your content down. No un-authorized sharing. But in the process, it can make it difficult for people who do what I do to make that content accessible to a student who can't read it off of the proverbial page. When you lock down the ability to copy and paste, print, or 'screen shot' it, you lock down the ability to use text-to-speech.

Imagine yourself a student with a reading-based learning disability, or a student who is blind or has low vision (note the use of 'student first' language). Imagine that the author of this great book chose to lock down the only way that you have to read it. Need I go on?  

There are a lot of good books out there and a lot of people that wanna read 'em... 

But text-to-speech is good for a LOT of readers. Actually, I use it to edit (see blog #1). People with and without disabilities are using it more often these days.

So here's what we do... When a student needs a book, say, a novel or trade paperback, etc, often times its available for electronic purchase. Most of the classics (and a lot of new titles) are up on sites such as Bookshare, which provides DAISY files that come bundled with navigable audio tracks. Good stuff. For text books, we go direct to the publishers (for the most part).  Domestic publishers have to, by law, provide full text electronic files for any title after the year 2000 for use by students with print-based disabilities. (Math, graphs, pictures, and tables are usually crap, but at least we have a start). We verify that students have purchased the book (which is only fair) and then we can provide files. But if the files are locked down... 

So here's the thing: we can get at the content anyways. I'm not saying whether I've personally done it or not, but if one of my students needed access to a book and it was DRM protected, it could be stripped in a matter of seconds. Boom. Instantly piratable book. It's not difficult to beat at all, so you aren't really protecting your content from being shared without the express, written consent of major league baseball. All you are doing is providing barriers for the innocent. In a professional setting like mine, we won't pirate. We have the ability to cut, scan, OCR (optical character recognition), and re-bind any book anyways. That's time consuming, though. More time in processing means less time in the hands of the student that probably needs more time with the content than his or her peers. That's not fair.

Let's look at it from the perspective of the author. Piracy takes money out of your pocket. Kinda. (I'm not sustaining my family on my writing, so take that from the source).  But, wouldn't it be cool if people liked your book enough to want to share it? I'd be happy. I mean, I guess if they didn't buy it on Amazon, they couldn't write a review, but there are other ways for them to spread the word. Sure, they won't all do that, but wouldn't a good review and/or some word-of-mouth press be worth more than a few royalty dollars?  I sure think so.

I write from the perspective of a disability advocate and hobby writer who just so happens to have written a wonderful tale of Dragons and Riders (Dragon Festival, Harvest Fire, check it out).  My book is available through Amazon, proudly free of DRM.


P.S. Things are coming along nicely with the sequel. Chapters 1-9 are 'in the books' and 10 is underway.  

P.P.S. New project alert!  My brother/cover artist (Ben Cioffi) and I have started work on our first graphic novel. It's pretty sick so far.  Kid's got some skill... More details soon, and I'm hoping we have some pages ready to show at the Boston Book Festival! Can't wait to share!!