Amazon's Kindle and digital rights management

There have been several stories over the last week about issues related to digital rights management (DRM) on Amazon‘s Kindle. After much confusion from Amazon customer service, the final update, as far as I can tell, is as follows:

You are able to redownload your books an unlimited number of times to any specific device.

Any one time the books can be on a finite number of devices. In most cases that means you can have the same book on six different devices.

Unfortunately the publishers decide how many licenses, that is devices, a book can be on at any one time. While most of the time that will be five or six different devices there will be times when it’s only one device.

At the present time there is no way to know how many devices can be licensed prior to buying the book.

According to the customer rep, there is a project to try to get that information available to the customer but it’s not yet available.

Finally, when you have reached a limit of six devices and you swap one older device for a new one, it does not automatically reset the number of licenses so you can add the new one. Amazon can release all of the licenses which will remove any given book from all of the devices and then allow you to re-download it that same number of times.

via KindleGate: Confusion Abounds Regarding Kindle Download Policy.

It sounds like Amazon’s trying to get the right balance for you – but this points out a general problem with DRM in the marketplace: it’s very confusing. This undercuts a general argument out there that “the marketplace has spoken” in terms of acceptance of DRM. If consumers have limited access to information, the market is inefficient, and cannot accurately measure consumer desires.

This kind of issue always makes me leery to purchase DRM protected media, and when I do, it encourages me to see if there is a way to remove the protection (so that I can freely use what I’ve purchased, not so I can share it with the world) – even if I never do so, it’s nice to know I can if the company fails or changes the rules on me.

Kristopher Nelson

I'm currently a graduate student of the history of law and technology at the University of California, San Diego. I also provide law and technology consulting services. Additionally, I'm a non-practicing lawyer and former developer/sysadmin at a biotech non-profit. For more about me and my work, see krisnelson.org or my Google Profile.

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