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:
- MS Lit
- Adobe (ePub or PDF)
Each DRM scheme has its own sharing limitations.
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 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, 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 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 ® 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 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.
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.