Digital Piracy: The Beginning of the End

Ok, you can steal my e-books. Well, it’s not actually stealing, because if you don’t want to pay for one, you can have it. So goes Tim O’Reilly’s approach to digital rights management (DRM). This, of course stands directly opposite the rigidly proprietary copyright practices of major media publishers. But O’Reilly runs a $100 million media business. What gives? Is he a throwback to the 60′? (Shades of Abbie Hoffman and Steal This Book.) Or do we see an early adopter of an approach to publishing and copyright management that puts more emphasis on the good to the community? And one which, of course, is also economically viable.

From “Steal This E-Book” by Jon Bruner in Forbes Focus, an abridged interview with Tim O’Reilly. The unabridged version (and worth the read) is here.

Jon Bruner: On all your titles you’ve dropped digital-rights management (DRM), which limits file sharing and copying. Aren’t you worried about piracy?

Tim O’Reilly: No. And so what? Let’s say my goal is to sell 10,000 copies of something. And let’s say that if by putting DRM in it I sell 10,000 copies and I make my money, and if by having no DRM 100,000 copies go into circulation and I still sell 10,000 copies. Which of those is the better outcome? I think having 100,000 in circulation and selling 10,000 is way better than having just the 10,000 that are paid for and nobody else benefits.

People who don’t pay you generally wouldn’t have paid you anyway. We’re delighted when people who can’t afford our books don’t pay us for them, if they go out and do something useful with that information.

I think having faith in that basic logic of the market is important. Besides, DRM interferes with the user experience. It makes it much harder to have people adopt your product.

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