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How to Share an eBook Without Stripping the DRM

If you operate on the premise that digital books are merely licenses and that readers are merely renting the use of the books, then the terms of engagement between the readers and the digital book are set by those that control the license – to wit, the people who control the DRM.   How many copies and who can use them are determined by the terms of the license.

This was the issue that came up a few months ago when it was revealed that up to six Kindles could share one account.   The Kindles did not need to be in the same household or owned by the same person.   Thus, according to Amazon’s interpretation of the Kindle terms of service, up to six Kindles can share one account and the digital copies attached to that one account.

There are seven major DRM schemes:

  • Ereader/Nook
  • Mobipocket
  • MS Lit
  • Apple
  • Adobe (ePub or PDF)
  • Sony
  • Kindle

Each DRM scheme has its own sharing limitations.

Ereader/Nook

The eReader/Nook DRM is both the least restrictive and the most restrictive. It’s the least restrictive because it can be used a limitless amount of times.   It is the most personally restrictive because each book is keyed to the purchaser’s name and credit card number. In order to share this book, you would have to give your friend your name and credit card number for them to access the title.

You can register a number of nooks to one account but each time you sync/purchase, those books will be downloaded to every nook on the account.

Mobipocket

Mobipocket books are encrypted with a PID.   The PID is a ten character combination of numbers and letters.   Each installation of a Mobipocket Reader has a different PID (although I think you can change this).   If you install Mobipocket Reader on your laptop and also have a mobipocket reader on a mobile device, each one will have a different PID.   The retailers allow you to enter a number of mobipocket PIDs to your account.   Each retailer is different:   Fictionwise allows 4 PID and Harlequin.com allows 3 PID.   Thus, in order to share, you would have to enter the PID in the account at each retailer of the end user.   You do not need to have Mobipocket installed to download a mobipocket book so if you don’t intend to read on your computer, you can uninstall that one.

MS Lit

MS Lit, like Adobe, iTunes, and Kindle, is account+ password encrypted DRM.   In order to download an MS Lit book, you first have to authorize your computer.   You are allowed to authorize up to 6 computers under the same MS Passport account (now Windows Live account).   Thus, when you download a copy, it is readable only by MS Lit readers that are authorized using the one MS Passport account.   If you and five other friends used the same Windows Live account to authorize your computer, then you would each be able to read the copy of the digital book.

Apple

Apple allows up to five computers to be authorized to one account. The Terms of Service for the iBookstore says

(iii) You shall be able to store Products from up to five different Accounts on certain devices, including an iPad, iPod touch or iPhone, at a time.

(iv) You shall be able to store Products on five iTunes-authorized devices at any time.

The Apple terms go on to say that you are solely responsible for the confidentiality and security of the account and password and that you should not (as opposed to shall not) share that information with anyone else or use anyone else’s Account.

Adobe

Adobe ® Digital Editions can be activated on up to 5 computers as long as they are activated using the same Adobe  ® ID, just like MS Reader.   Thus a book is tied to the Adobe ID and if your computers are all authorized with the same account those books should be readable on those computers.

I’m unsure whether the five computers count the dedicated devices like the Sony Reader.

Sony

Sony uses Adobe Digital Editions now and allows up to 5 computers to be authorized with the Sony Reader software.   I tested this with a friend but while she was able to log into my account and see my books, but not download them.   However, my iMac and netbook were able to download books purchased on my iMac.

Kindle

According to the Help file, Kindles can be share content.

Books can be shared between Kindles, Kindle for PC, or iPhones that are registered to the same account. There may be limits on the number of devices (usually 6) that can simultaneously use a single book.

Devices that use an app such as the iPad, iTouch or Android tablet aren’t considered a device.   Only Kindles are considered devices for the purposes of the limitation.   Unlike the nook, each Kindle and app can maintain a separate archive, however, like the nook, if you sync a book, it will sync at each device and app.

****

So what does this all mean? If DRM’ed ebooks are merely rentals, then the terms of the rental are determined by the DRM that binds it.   Each DRM scheme allows for a limited amount of sharing.

You and 3-6 of your close, trusted friends can form buying clubs sharing one account and hooking up your devices to that one account.   This is a way to get around those geographical limitations. I had an international user use my account information to login to my Kindle account. She was able to download books that had US geographic limitations.

If everyone chipped in $20 a month, your buying club could purchase 2 hardcovers, 2 trade paperbacks, and 9 mass markets. (assuming six members).

Authorizations can be perilous though.   MS Reader/Lit, for example, doesn’t have a way to deauthorize computers and once you’ve hit your limit, you won’t be able to add another computer unless you go through the  seven circles of hell.   Sometimes people can’t get Adobe DRM to ever activate * cough* Jayne * cough *.   Further, not all DRM platforms are available for all computing systems.   Mobipocket and MS Reader/Lit are not available on Macintosh computers.   Ms Reader can’t be read on Blackberries and many haven’t been ported over to Android systems.

Probably the easiest to work is the Kindle.   The Kindle has apps for almost every device whether it is the iPhone, iPad, iMac, PC, Blackberry.   Further, the terms are clear that you can have up to six Kindles (and multiple computers) attached to one account.   The accounts are easily activated by using one login and one password.   Conversely, you could hand out your credit card information and your name to anyone you wanted to share a book with using the eReader/Nook platform.

There are still drawbacks. Someone’s credit card is attached to that Amazon account and everyone with access can easily click the buy button for anything on Amazon whether its books or grills.   Thus, you really have to trust a person who is going to share an account with you.   Further, the person has to have very similar reading tastes. I love some of my friends but I’m often on opposite ends of the reading spectrum than they are.   Further, I like the privacy of my own account.   I’d rather gift a book than share an account.

But if you have some friends you trust that have similar tastes, a Kindle buying club is one way to alleviate the sting of the increased prices that accompanying decreased rights.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

38 Comments

  1. Barbara Elsborg
    Apr 25, 2010 @ 04:17:57

    If the only restrictions on the number of users are in the conditions and terms rather than hardwired into the software/hardware – where do you draw the line on the numbers in your ‘club’?
    I might lend a paperback I’ve enjoyed to a couple of friends but E-books are much easier to pass around in larger numbers and in a pyramid fashion too. Do you have any thoughts as to the ethics of that?

  2. Beau
    Apr 25, 2010 @ 05:49:21

    @Barbara Elsborg: The restrictions are hardwired into the hardware and software. that’s what drm is. Each one cannot download a book the share it with another 5 people. Once 6 copies have been licensed to particular devices, no other device can be added until you take one off. I’m fairly certain in the case of ebook readers that are synced to a computer, that in fact counts as 2 devices right there. And frankly, just because the devices and drm CAN allow it, doesn’t mean the publisher does. I recently learned this the hard way when I was having computer issues and just attempting to download … always to the same computer … I lost access to the book.

  3. Angela James
    Apr 25, 2010 @ 06:07:09

    Not mentioned were the sharing capabilities of the nook, which separates it from other eReader formats you can buy. Nook, through special agreement with (only some) publishers, allows you to share a book once with friends. The friends don’t need to own a nook, they can access the content on any device they have the B&N program installed on.

    But that’s not for every book, because not every publisher would agree to have the book shared, not even once.

  4. barbara elsborg
    Apr 25, 2010 @ 06:30:45

    @Beau: i know what DRM stands for. I was just asking what I thought was a related question.
    The problem is that there are ways of bypassing DRM and no sooner have publishers come up with something new, than hackers subvert it.

  5. Angela James
    Apr 25, 2010 @ 06:37:22

    @Barbara I think Beau was answering this question: where do you draw the line on the numbers in your ‘club'? by explaining the limits are already set by the hardware, software or DRM. It’s not just that the terms and conditions say you can only have so many devices to an account or use it so many times, it’s actually hardwired into the device, ebook, etc. So you don’t have to “draw the line” because it’s already done for you. Hope that made sense!

  6. Brian
    Apr 25, 2010 @ 07:24:48

    While the info about Adobe DE is generally true you can contact Adobe to up the number of activations you have. Also it is possible for the publisher to restrict the book so that once it’s downloaded by DE or the Sony software it can’t be transferred to another activated device. Not sure why a pub would do that, but it came up a while back when S&S was first getting their content server set up and they had some settings ‘wrong’.

    As far as having someone’s CC on the Amazon account. Couldn’t you’re ‘club’ get together and buy a Visa gift card and have that as the CC number on the account to limit things?

    As far as the Nook share a book feature. Have many pubs jumped on board with that? When the Nook first launched they hadn’t. I think it’s a neat idea although it’d be nice if someone could share more than once (say once every 6 months or something).

  7. Beau
    Apr 25, 2010 @ 10:14:01

    @barbara elsborg: The whole point of the above article is to lay out the terms and conditions under which an ebook is being sold to us and what rights we as purchasers have to share our unhacked drm’d ebooks–at least on the software/hardware side. There may be much more to be discussed about the extra limits publishers put on a book without acknowledgement at the time of purchase, but I don’t see how the subject of hacking or removing drm is related to this particular discussion.

  8. iokijo
    Apr 25, 2010 @ 10:17:31

    To me one of the big problems is it is assumed all consumers buy completely new pre-set computers, and only every once in awhile. I know with MS lit. if you do your own upgrades like I do they consider each a new computer. You run out of the 6 allowed fast. Since electronics hate me, I’m doing upgrade/replacement pretty often. Which means there are a lot of .lit ebooks in my Fictionwise.com bookshelf that I can’t even read much less let a family member read.
    While there are quite a few authors I would really like to get their books which are only available in ebook, I can’t afford to pay for a book I won’t be able to read because I did an upgrade or was able to get a new ereader. DRM’s and exclusive format just mean no sale to me, and I hate that.

  9. Jane
    Apr 25, 2010 @ 10:50:26

    @barbara elsborg There is no existing DRM scheme that hasn’t been hacked. DRM hacking schemes, though, only work for people who have bought the book.

    Aside from that, this post is, as Beau has pointed out, is about the legitimate ways of sharing as dictated by the DRM that the publishers have had retailers put on digital books.

    In other words, these methods and means appear to be completely within the terms of service between the purchaser and the retailer and that is the relationship that the reader has – it is not with the publisher but rather the retailer.

  10. Jane
    Apr 25, 2010 @ 10:52:38

    @Brian I don’t have any Kindles connected to my account but I have more than 6 computers and other related paraphenalia authorized on my one account. (3 iPhones, an iPad, and 4 computers). Thus, for the Kindle, I think, it is largely dependent on the actual number of Kindles connected and not devices.

    For mobipocket, obviously, there is the one PID per reader installation so a device and a computer is 2 PIDs.

    For Adobe Acrobat – I think I have 3 computers authorized and one Sony Reader so I can’t say whether it is device + computer or just computer.

  11. Jane
    Apr 25, 2010 @ 10:53:22

    @Angela James I didn’t mention the Lend Me feature, but I guess I should have, because it is so crippled.

  12. Marsha
    Apr 25, 2010 @ 13:31:14

    I don’t often share ebooks, (I believe everyone should buy their own copy) but when I do, it is usually with someone that meets certain criteria. I currently have one friend that matches – line of site, same/similar ereader software/gadgets and a similar taste in books. With this friend, I sometimes share an ebook with the eReader (eReader/Fictionwise) DRM. I read on an iPod touch and she uses an iPhone.

    We will hand the device over to the person that bought the ebook and they will sign into their account. The ebook will be downloaded and unlocked with a credit card number, if necessary. (The log-in info will then be wiped out by the device owner logging back into their own account.)

    While we trust each other, there is no reason for us to give out our credit card numbers, or give each other access to our entire libraries.

    On a funny note: I have another friend that I used to swap paper books with. I don’t buy paper anymore, so that stopped. The last time I tried to swap books with her, I put one of my ebooks on on old handheld I had lying around and lent it to her, along with a charger. She kept forgetting to charge it, so it would die and wipe out all the information on it. (It was an OLD handheld…) After I had to restore it 2 or 3 times for her to finish the book, we gave up on that way of swapping books. She wasn’t ready yet. :)

  13. Marsha
    Apr 25, 2010 @ 13:50:05

    I just want to add to my “I believe everyone should buy their own copy” statement earlier. Most of the ebooks I buy are in the $0-$8 range. I don’t buy ebooks at hard-cover prices. At those prices, I would probably share all the time. The friend I mentioned earlier is generally a buy-read-DELETE type person while I am a buy-read-KEEP one. If we were to buy high-priced ebooks, I would purchase all of them, and she would pay me half the money to borrow them, since she is not going to keep them anyway.

  14. Tabby
    Apr 25, 2010 @ 15:12:33

    DRM is unacceptable to me no matter how “generous” the terms are. Strip it and be done with it.

  15. Janet P
    Apr 25, 2010 @ 16:49:55

    Great post Jane and thanks for taking the time to share with us the current status of all the different formats.

    Like the previous poster I mostly find DRM to be this nasty little mosquito buzzing around my head. I also slap it away upon purchase for my own protection. I simply want guaranteed access to my books – now and 10 years from now. DRM threatens that and so I do away with it. I really don’t feel guilty about it.

    I know that many people desperately want to do the right thing though and care much more about following the strict letter of the guidelines.

  16. MaryK
    Apr 25, 2010 @ 17:33:42

    Who’s in charge of DRM under the agency model? Has the responsibility for keeping track of DRM permissions changed?

    I don’t think I’ve ever been clear on whether the bookstore or the device controls DRM. The complication is probably the biggest problem with DRM for most people. Even if I weren’t the keep-books-forever type, I wouldn’t buy DRM. It’s too confusing.

  17. sao
    Apr 25, 2010 @ 22:17:59

    I share YA and some adult books with my daughter. I share magazines and some types of non-fiction with my husband. I share book club books with my book club, I share different kinds of books with my father, father-in-law and sister.

    So linking 5 devices on one account looks like it could get restrictive very quickly, given that my sister shares stuff with her husband, my father-in-law with his partner, my daughter with her friends.

    I really dislike the idea that the practices I’ve had with books for decades, based on a physical book, are suddenly frowned on (“I believe everyone should buy their own copy.”).

    I’d read a lot less if I had to buy a copy of every book that is handed to me with the comment that it is worth reading.

    For some price well under 5$, I’d download my own copy, if they’d ditch the stupid geographic restrictions, which assume you have a much more settled lifestyle than my international one.

  18. XandraG
    Apr 26, 2010 @ 08:08:02

    Jane, my understanding of the ereader DRM is that it’s linked to the cc number *with which it was purchased.* I have several that were purchased with a retired cc number that I can still access, as long as I have the number, whether or not the card is active. Of course, I didn’t know that at first and had to go on a scavenger hunt through my bank records to find the old card number, but I am a finder and my old books are back (yay!)

    Strip the drm after you’ve bought it and it’s yours forever. :/

    @iokijo makes an excellent point. Computers are not static devices (neither are reading devices/i-things, but with them, there’s a better chance that firmware upgrades affect ownership keys less. Slightly better, but there). OSes have to be upgraded all the time (and given how many times I’ve had to rebuild my folks’ Windows system *from the ground up* because of trojans, viruses, and just plain crud in the cheap-ass chip fans, it’s not even funny). Hardware swaps also have the tendency to affect your computer’s “identity.” We have two Frankenboxen in our household who’ve had about a dozen different “identities” because of new graphics cards, motherboards, chip upgrades, memory swaps, etc.

    Every time you change out the hamsters, you clean out the cage, too. Your ebooks may not survive.

    Currently, the biggest issue that people are finding uncomfortable or not worth dealing with is the fact that the DRM restrictions are an agreement with the retailer or publisher, and the DRM company. The actual consumer is never given a choice. Wouldn’t it be great to be able to buy a book and select *your own* preferred version of DRM.

    As a consumer, I draw a parallel with renting a dvd versus renting a blu-ray (more expensive at our local joint) or renting a new release versus a been-out-awhile flick. If I’m reading a title I’m vaguely interested in, put the restrictive DRM on it and make it cheaper. I’ll read it and let it go for a bargain price. Give me the option of upgrading my access, say to share it with X friends, email addresses, accounts, etc. at a handful of extra change, or upgrading to the deluxe, full-price version sans DRM.

    What is wrong with a la carte DRM? Or rather, what is wrong with, yanno, asking the consumer?

  19. Joy
    Apr 26, 2010 @ 08:17:21

    I have a nook and have used the LendMe feature. I don’t know how many publishers have signed up, but about a 3rd of the books on my wish list are lendable which is a decent proportion. I have had at least 1 loan fail–there is no fix for that, it just fails and you can’t lend it again (in this case, what happened is that my friend was prompted for a credit card to unlock the book, hers didn’t work, and B&N tech support was not able to help). Nevertheless it has allowed me to share books with a friend and vice versa, which is always a nice thing.

  20. Jane
    Apr 26, 2010 @ 08:37:56

    @XandraG Right. Some places will allow you to redownload if you change your CC number but for those places where they dont you are sol.

  21. Kristi
    Apr 26, 2010 @ 11:19:53

    @iokijo: This is what worries me about doing much with e-books: The number of computers.

    My husband and I are both software engineers. In our house, we have 4 functioning, frequently-used computers. I think there are two more that might still boot if we try (and hubby likes to tinker with spare parts). That doesn’t count any devices like his iPod touch (or any future e-readers or smart phones that we buy). So I think we’re pushing the device limits on day one. I rarely buy songs on iTunes for this very reason–I can’t keep track of which computer is synced to which iPod and when I’m in the mood for a new song I’m rarely at the right one. Its much easier to just order the CD and have it snail-mailed then rip it later. And hubby and I have doubled up on our CD-ripping time and effort copying the same CD’s to muliple iPods because of this (since heaven forbid we should both want the same jointly-owned CD on our indivdiual iPod).

    All very frustrating. I only read DRM-free e-books. I think I own 1 DRM’d e-book and its a software manual (free download that came with the hardcover), and I have to remember the email and password I downloaded it with in order to read it. I think I have like 6 or more email addresses at present, all for different reasons, none that can be combined. So, that’s not exactly helping.

    But paper books work for all eye in the house, assuming the proper pair of corrective lenses is installed.

    And for this, the publishers want to charge me $12.99 or more?

  22. Ridley
    Apr 26, 2010 @ 12:37:39

    @Kristi:

    Why not just buy the DRM-free mp3s on Amazon? Seems easier and cheaper than buying CDs to rip.

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  27. jamie
    Dec 04, 2010 @ 22:15:05

    @Janet P:

    I guess my question is I am in the same boat and want to be able to keep my books forever. So when I get my nook this christmas how do I “strip” the drm?

  28. Donna
    Dec 12, 2010 @ 11:29:45

    Both of my parents are getting Nooks for Christmas and I want to be able to share my library with them but very few are Lendable. Is there a way I can share my “books” with them?

  29. Jane
    Dec 12, 2010 @ 13:01:29

    @Donna If you hook up all your nooks to one password and email address, I believe you can share the same account. That’s really the only way to share books between devices unless you strip the DRM.

  30. jamie
    Dec 12, 2010 @ 16:54:43

    @Jane:

    can you tell me how to strip the drm then.

  31. Jane
    Dec 12, 2010 @ 20:47:21

    @jamie The best thing to do is google for it. BN uses a different kind of proprietary DRM and so there is a special script that you have to use. I suggest downloading Calibre, the ebook management tool, and then googling for the BN plugin for Calibre. Stripping DRM isn’t always legal depending on where you live and what type of book you are going to strip.

  32. jamie
    Dec 12, 2010 @ 21:53:07

    @Jane:

    thank you for the information. maybe we will try and share an account then as we live in different states.

  33. Vic
    Dec 20, 2010 @ 11:01:07

    I will stick with books for now. I can resell them or give them away when I’m finished. I can get one at the library. I don’t have to worry about getting the “latest” device or my device getting sat on and being useless.
    If being a former “early adopter” has taught me anything, these things have a way of working out.
    This is a young, young, young technology. I don’t feel the need to get on board.

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  35. Janet
    Jul 13, 2011 @ 13:41:21

    I am a teacher and would like to buy kindles or some sort of device for students to read books together in class. I usually have reading groups of about 4 students.(8 groups per class and three classes) It would be great if I could load them onto their iPods as well. I would NOT want them to have assess to my credit card accounts. I would like to write a grant for x number of kindles, and Y number of iPods, plus about 20 books that I could have 4 copies read at a time. Is this even remotely possible? Help. I am not sure I have followed your conversation threads.

  36. Jane
    Jul 13, 2011 @ 14:23:45

    @Janet: Unfortunately you cannot simultaneously lend these digital books and most of the mainstream ebooks cannot be lent at all. You would likely to have to buy a separate copy for each Kindle.

  37. AVTerminer
    Feb 10, 2012 @ 22:10:19

    for Kindle eBooks, we can share them by lending out, here is the guide of how to share kindle ebooks
    [link removed]

    for Adobe drm ebooks (Nook, Kobo, Sony, etc), although they are in the same DRM method, but if we can’t install reading apps on eReaders which read Adobe DRM, we can not share the ebook on different eReaders, either, we can only strip the DRM,
    guide is here: [link removed]

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