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Amazon Kindle Proprietary Format Broken 203

Posted by kdawson
from the let-a-thousand-e-books-bloom dept.
An anonymous reader writes "The Register reports that the proprietary document format used by the Amazon online store and Amazon's Kindle has been successfully reverse engineered, allowing these DRM-protected documents to be converted into the open MOBI format. Users of alternative e-book readers rejoice." Here are the hacker's notes on the program he is calling "Unswindle," and here is the (translated) forum where the Kindle challenge was posed and answered.
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Amazon Kindle Proprietary Format Broken

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  • Nothing new? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by aussersterne (212916) on Wednesday December 23, 2009 @06:37AM (#30533900) Homepage

    Wait, I've been using MobiDeDRM for a while with my Kindle's Mobi serial number to strip the DRM and leave me with Mobi files. How is this different, exactly?

  • Too early (Score:4, Interesting)

    by OpenSourced (323149) on Wednesday December 23, 2009 @07:00AM (#30533942) Journal

    Better to have waited a couple of years more, till much more books had been published in the DRM'd format. Publishers were starting to warm to the Kindle, and now they will retrench like timid snails.

  • by charlener (837709) on Wednesday December 23, 2009 @07:07AM (#30533966) Homepage

    I don't know if it's that this took a year+ to break or if it's just that no one actually sat down to try it until a year or so. I'm not sure how great the overlap of e-book users and coding types is compared to, say, dvd viewers or itunes users and coders. Also could take a guess based on torrent activities - presumably there are lots more torrents of movies, tv series, music, etc. than e-books.

  • Re:Not so much (Score:4, Interesting)

    by jimicus (737525) on Wednesday December 23, 2009 @09:05AM (#30534342)

    I've been walking around with DRM-free files for over a year. Anyway, after stripping of them of DRM, I changed the filenames, and added prefixes to the titles (my real goal) to "categorize" them, which is why I wanted to unDRM them in the first place--adding text prefixes to the titles to indicate category makes it easier to use a Kindle without folder capability.

    If Amazon really wanted to, they could easily identify their own books on the Kindle regardless of what messing around you've done.

    The obvious way would be to put in the occasional misprint - an extra space or punctuation mark would be the easiest, though the odd mis-spelled word would also work - and check for it in a firmware update later. IIRC there are cases of publishers doing exactly this to determine if works they publish were being infringed upon. Put in enough little things like this (and in a book you've got space for hundreds without anyone really noticing) and the only way to avoid it is to retype the whole thing.

    Though I'm sure some enterprising fellow somewhere will reply to this with a five-line Perl script which takes a block of text, removes extraneous spaces, adds a few of its own, corrects existing mis-spellings and adds a few new ones and also messes with the punctuation, all of which without impacting the readability of the text.

  • Re:Too early (Score:5, Interesting)

    by wvmarle (1070040) on Wednesday December 23, 2009 @09:07AM (#30534352)

    If publishers were really thinking that, they were not really smart.

    DRM has two sides. The content producer, and the consumer. Both lose control to the DRM provider. Look at iTunes and the ITMS. Apple got a virtual monopoly on digital music players, so any music publisher wanting DRM and sell music online and wanting to have an audience larger than 10 would have to go to Apple. Apple knew that. It gave them a lot of pricing power and control.

    Now the music publishers realised that, and have started to sell non-DRM music, so they can at least dictate the terms again. There is competition between the stores: they all want to sell music.

    At the moment ebooks go the same way. Amazon is a giant, their Kindle is very popular. If a publisher wants to sell DRMed books, they have to go the Amazon/Kindle route. Great for Amazon: they have a double monopoly (readers and content). Not good for authors and publishers. Amazon can demand a greater profit on sales than in an open market, and if Amazon doesn't like your title too bad. You can not go for another DRM as the most common reader can not read it.

    I have argued the same before, and will continue to do: DRM goes away because it gives all control to the DRM provider. And the content provider (music labels, publishers, authors, movie studios, TV channels, etc) have to sing to their tune. On top of that it fragments the market: imagine, you are an author, you want to publish your book, and not knowing much about digital technology and distribution you want to "protect it against copying because otherwise everyone will steal my work" so you want to add that cool DRM technology. Then you have a choice of distributors: you could go with DRM1 and you get 40% market share, as their DRM1Reader has a 40% share of e-book readers. Or you could go with DRM2 and you get 30%. DRM3 and DRM4 each have 15% market share. And neither allows you to license to anyone else, so you can not reach more than 40% of the market.

    Of course everyone will go to the DRM1 company to grab the largest distribution potential for their work, which then grows and grows and grows to say 80% of the market. And has full control over everything: distribution, pricing, commission for themselves, whether or not to promote/feature your work, etc.

    That is what happened to Apple's iTunes. And that is the real reason why everyone is now selling DRM free music. Not because consumers do not like it because in this game no-one cares about the consumer as long as they consume. But the content owners lose control over their content, and lose sales.

  • by TapeCutter (624760) * on Wednesday December 23, 2009 @09:21AM (#30534436) Journal
    Call me a ludite but I just don't see the point in paying $300AU for a device (DRM'd or otherwise) to read e-books that cost virtually the same as a real book. With real books I save $300 in up front costs and will never experience the frustration of batteries running out on the last chapter. And when I'm finished I can go to the seconhand bookshop and swap it over for another book for pennies. What's the attraction?
  • Re:Not so much (Score:2, Interesting)

    by riegel (980896) on Wednesday December 23, 2009 @09:32AM (#30534492) Homepage
    I had a similar idea for mailing lists. The basic idea would be to have the mail server generate a unique (via inserting random spaces line feeds etc.) message to every subscriber. Then if that message gets cross posted you have a method to help identify who posted it.
  • by Intrinsic (74189) on Wednesday December 23, 2009 @09:34AM (#30534510) Homepage

    I guess for me its about making room in my book bag. It doesn't replace a paperback, but its great if you need to carry a ton of books for research, which as a writer, I sometimes need to carry a bunch. But im not buying any device that contains drm so I stick to books or the occasional pdf.

  • by Ash-Fox (726320) on Wednesday December 23, 2009 @09:38AM (#30534532)

    What's the attraction?

    I use ebooks all the time (not DRMed), the attraction for me is having an entire library of information accessible on the go. I have thousands of ebooks on my netbook (I could store far, far more, but I don't have more), some of them technical manuals which I find useful to look things up and others just happen to be books I tend to enjoy reading. Additionally, in the room I live in, I don't really have any room for storage, so just having it on the laptop, netbook etc. is a God send. Being able to take notes on the book without actually 'defacing' or 'damaging' the book in the process is also a benefit, since I tend to feel a bit guilty for writing all over the place in books. I have no interest in pawning off my books, plus I tend to have many obscure ones that wouldn't sell well.

    You did make a point about battery life, but getting into a situation where you couldn't recharge the Kindle (I don't own one) before a week ended (assuming you're using the wireless feature, otherwise it's two weeks) seems rather obscure to me.

    I hope this answers your question.

  • Re:Too early (Score:4, Interesting)

    by b1t r0t (216468) on Wednesday December 23, 2009 @10:36AM (#30534986)

    You make it sound like the DRM in iTMS was all Apple's idea. Guess what? The labels required it. All Apple did was say "this DRM format is ours and ours only". They never prevented you from playing un-DRMed music. Nor did they default to ripping CDs in DRM format like (IIRC) Windows Media Player did. Apple took longer to remove DRM music than other music stores simply because they had to wait for existing contracts to expire.

    Are you so sure that Apple's plan was to make themselves a (pseudo-) monopoly through their DRM? Or maybe the plan all along was to make the DRM distasteful enough for the labels that eventually they would give it up?

  • Re:Mcgyver (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Opportunist (166417) on Wednesday December 23, 2009 @11:08AM (#30535302)

    Sadly, lately the pendulum is swinging back. With the advent of "team" based hero groups in mainstream TV shows, the geeks have become the comic foil again. Think Daniel Jackson in Stargate. You can see it pretty well in CSI and its spinoffs, too. While in the original CSI, Grissom could be seen as something like a geek with his insect collection and his pretty big trivia knowledge, when you look at the spinoff main characters, namely Caine or Taylor, you notice that they're more the traditional, hands-on kind of hero. More action, less thinking.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 23, 2009 @11:10AM (#30535324)

    The grand-parent is correct.

    http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20091206/2048537223.shtml

        Apparently the publishers are selling ebooks to Amazon for $12, and Amazon sells them to you for $10, a $2 LOSS.

        So to those that said that DRM gives the power to the DRM holding company, please explain how the publishers are dictating such ridiculous terms.

  • by Duradin (1261418) on Wednesday December 23, 2009 @11:16AM (#30535376)

    Sumerian clay tablets with cuneiform script have been readable for thousands of years, what's the chance that your book will still be readable in 5000 years?

    I don't think anyone is buying a kindle and expecting it to outlast the ages. Kindles are a lot more convenient than lugging around clay tablets.

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