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WHSmith Putting DRM In EBooks Without Permission From the Authors 88

Posted by timothy
from the don't-read-more dept.
sgroyle (author Simon Royle) writes with an excerpt from an article he wrote about discovering that publisher WHSmith has been adding DRM to books without their authors' permission, and against their intent: "DRM had, without my knowledge, been added to my book. I quickly checked my other books; same thing. Then I checked the books of authors who, because of their vocal and public opposition, I know are against DRM – Konrath, Howey, and Doctorow, to name a few – same result. ALL books on WHSmith have DRM in them. Rather than assume WHSmith where at fault, I checked with my distributor, Draft2Digital. They send my books to Kobo, who in turn send my books to WHSmith. D2D assured me the DRM was not being added by them and were distressed to hear that this was the case. Kobo haven't replied to any of the messages in this thread: 'WHSmith putting DRM in books distributed via Kobo'. I'm not holding my breath." Update: 03/22 21:02 GMT by T : Problem resolved. Hanno Liem of the Kobo team wrote with good news that the DRM notices that were appended were done so in error, and since corrected: "The original site has been updated – it was just a bug on our site, and was resolved within a day I think. We're all slashdot readers here at Kobo Operations, and this is kinda painful :p" Thanks, Hanno.
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WHSmith Putting DRM In EBooks Without Permission From the Authors

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  • Hmmm.... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Luthair (847766) on Thursday March 21, 2013 @08:51AM (#43233231)
    I would have thought a writer would proof read submissions and avoid an error like "WHSmith where at fault"...
    • Re:Hmmm.... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by pokoteng (2729771) on Thursday March 21, 2013 @08:55AM (#43233271)
      That's a job for editors, not writers.
      • by Anonymous Coward

        Yes, but on slashdot it is the responsibility of the writer.

        • by Nyder (754090)

          Yes, but on slashdot it is the responsibility of the writer.

          No Timothy, it's your job, the editor to proofread and correct any mistakes. Nice try on the Anonymous Coward post though...

      • by Nyder (754090)

        That's a job for editors, not writers.

        Timothy never proof reads. Not sure how he has this job, tbh.

        • "Timothy never proof reads. Not sure how he has this job, tbh."

          He can't, by law. If someone "moderates" or alters website content that was supplied by somebody else, they become legally liable for that content.

          I wouldn't edit it, either.

          • I should amend that comment. By law, he certainly CAN, if he wants. But then he does become legally liable. If I owned a site I wouldn't let moderators do it.
    • by nedlohs (1335013)

      Why?

      That's what proofreaders and copyeditors are for.

    • by Kaenneth (82978)

      I love it when grammer nazis' get there pantys in a bunch.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    @ http://ebookoid.com/

    • by Nyder (754090)

      @ http://ebookoid.com/ [ebookoid.com]

      thepiratebay.se has a bunch of NON DRM books also. Plus a price you can't beat.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 21, 2013 @08:54AM (#43233261)

    there is http://www.gutenberg.org/ [gutenberg.org]

    and its excellent feeder http://pgdp.net/ [pgdp.net]

  • by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdot AT hackish DOT org> on Thursday March 21, 2013 @08:59AM (#43233303)

    I'm guessing the authors signed some kind of publication contract that authorized WHSmith to make and distribute ebook versions in the first place. Does adding DRM to the ebooks comply with the terms of the contract? Without seeing the contract they signed, I have no real way of knowing what they gave WHSmith permission to do.

    • Yea, the article is very vague other than to say it seems it's going through one company to another, etc. It is claimed that the first party to his publishing indicated that they were not pleased with it either. Undoubtedly someone assumed that "standard contract rules apply" and for one of those companies the standard rules are "DRM protects our rights as an ebook publisher." I'll be interested in seeing how they respond, but the contents of a contract will be of the greatest influence.
    • by srg33 (1095679)

      You MIGHT be correct, but TFS IMPLIES that author Simon Royle contracted with Draft2Digital (his distributor), not WHSmith nor Kobo.

      • by ledow (319597) on Thursday March 21, 2013 @09:15AM (#43233459) Homepage

        Then somewhere along the line, someone still gave away that right, even if their own contract didn't allow them to do so.

        It's a contract dispute. It's not WHSmith being evil, someone, somewhere would have agreed to terms that the author wouldn't have agreed to themselves.

        • by mwvdlee (775178) on Thursday March 21, 2013 @09:26AM (#43233555) Homepage

          Or maybe somebody added DRM despite contracts prohibiting them from doing so, either by accident or knowingly.
          Perhaps it was a technical glitch in their system, ignoring the "do not remove rights" checkbox.

          Without even knowing who did what, the "why" is a total guess.

          • by ledow (319597) on Thursday March 21, 2013 @09:43AM (#43233727) Homepage

            WHSmith don't have a single ebook in their store without DRM, and deal with lots of the big-names and publishers.

            It's highly unlikely they wouldn't just have a standard contract that says they only publish DRM books (because that's ALL they do, and sell their own e-Reader devices because of precisely that). It's going to be someone agreeing to WHSmith's terms and not the other way around.

            (Hint: In the UK, WHSmith's is much bigger than you might think. My father-in-law (a well-published author across a variety of subjects from school textbooks - including some used as standard texts - to children's books to books for adults on grammar) was once refused publishing of a book because "WHSmith don't have a category for that". Literally, every agent he tried gave him the same answer for that book (and only that book) and it never got published because of it.

            • The unnamed category is, of course, "good".

            • My father-in-law (a well-published author across a variety of subjects from school textbooks - including some used as standard texts - to children's books to books for adults on grammar) was once refused publishing of a book because "WHSmith don't have a category for that".

              I find it really surprising that WHSmiths has a non-negigible presence in book selling. The only times I've ever bought books from there have been when I received a gift voucher for them (they do the very sneaky thing, I discovered, of making their gift cards expire, but not putting an expiration date on them, which is probably not legal). Any other time I've considered buying a book there, it's been cheaper in the bookshop across the street (and much cheaper online). The only reason I can think of that

    • I guess Cory Doctorow made the mistake of using a Creative Commons license [creativecommons.org].

      Next time, he should just release his books under GPL3.

    • by stephanruby (542433) on Thursday March 21, 2013 @02:10PM (#43237047)

      His blog has been updated. It was just a mistake.

      Thank you for contacting Kobo Writing Life.
      There is a known error on the WHSmith website that is showing DRM-Free books as DRM ePubs. They’re working on fixing this issue when they update their website in May.
      Even though your books appear as DRM ePub’s, any customers that want to purchase your book from WHSmith are directed to our site to make the purchase. On our site your book is correctly listed as DRM-Free.
      I’m sorry for the inconvenience that this may cause and hope that this has clarified things for you.
      Sincerely,
      The Kobo Team

  • Due diligence (Score:5, Interesting)

    by abigsmurf (919188) on Thursday March 21, 2013 @09:06AM (#43233375)
    Did the author, or the distributors make it clear that they cannot put DRM on the books when supplying to WHSmiths or Kobo?

    Sure WHSmiths may suck for including DRM on all their books but, providing they didn't break any agreements or contract terms, it's frankly the author or the publisher to blame for blindly making their books available to them without checking.

    You can't sell your books to a company that only sells DRM encoded books then act outraged when your books feature DRM.
  • My post (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ledow (319597) on Thursday March 21, 2013 @09:13AM (#43233443) Homepage

    I just posted on the original site but I doubt it will pass moderation so:

    Not being funny, but why go public without just complaining to your agent/publisher/whatever first? I mean, as far as I can see, this is a contract dispute. Someone, somewhere has a contract with you that says whether or not they can add DRM to your book. Youâ(TM)ve signed it, or not. It might say either way is permitted or nothing at all about DRM. But presumably that person has signed something with another person who has signed something and, eventually, thereâ(TM)s a line in there somewhere that says they can or canâ(TM)t do this. Whoever signed that line and didnâ(TM)t pass it back down the contracts is in breach of something. I highly doubt that WHSmith does not have a contract that says âoeWe will add DRMâ in some manner, itâ(TM)s just a question of who signed it and gave away more rights to the work than they were allowed to.

    And given that itâ(TM)s your copyright (presumably), then bundling that content in any way you donâ(TM)t like is a copyright violation. Thatâ(TM)s NOT the format you provided it to them in, and no different to them selling it with a modified front cover, or with the words in Chapter 2 altered. So just contact your agent/publisher and get them to have a word â" there should be no walls of silence on that chain, because youâ(TM)re all contracted to do your jobs. Itâ(TM)s not like an end-consumer where you have to hope to get through to the right person at customer services.

    Whatâ(TM)s happened is no different to not selling the electronic rights to someone and then finding that your publisher has published it electronically (actually happened to a friend of mine who writes childrenâ(TM)s books â" hell, theyâ(TM)ve even had a book that they sent to their agent published without their knowledge, and they only found out when they found it in a second-hand bookshop, complete with their name and cover!). And itâ(TM)s a contract dispute. And you either signed a contract that allowed it, or not. As such, you just get your agent/publisher to look into it, give it a month to sort out, and then just issue a nasty legal letter to pull it. Posting online about it and in forum posts just seems amateur and likely to backfire in terms of NDA clauses etc. in contracts along the way.

    And I reckon youâ(TM)ll find that one of the contracts you signed either says they can do this or, somewhere along the way, someone has a gap between the contracts they receive and the contracts they sign that allows this to slip through until â" as youâ(TM)ve done â" someone objects.

    Stop messing about with open letters, hearsay, and forum posts and ask your publisher for an explanation in a nice recorded-delivery letter from your local legal representative.

    • by sgroyle (2036440)

      I just posted on the original site but I doubt it will pass moderation so:

      It passed moderation.

    • I don't know if I should blame the poster, Slashdot, IE8, or all three, but after the tenth Ã(TM)s, I gave up reading.

      Maybe it is a DRM side effect.
    • but why go public without just complaining to your agent/publisher/whatever first?

      I don't know if this is what happened here, but the normal process is to email or phone the agent/publisher/whatever, and you get absolutely no response. Rather than wait for them to (maybe) consider returning a call, I might go public. Then someone at the agency/publisher/whatever says "oh fuck!" and then makes a conciliatory response. By that time, of course, it's too late, but whose fault is that?

  • by Sloppy (14984) on Thursday March 21, 2013 @09:16AM (#43233463) Homepage Journal

    If this is true, and if the author did not assign copyright to the publisher (so that the publisher is now the copyright holder), and if they didn't tell the publisher to do this in some fine print that they didn't read, and if .. probably something else I didn't think of .. ;-) Er, my point is that if this happened without "the authority of the copyright owner" (to exactly quote DMCA) then the publisher just spoiled that DRM scheme. It's not prohibited for people to remove that DRM, and better yet, it's legal to manufacture, sell, traffick in, offer to the public etc, tools that are primarily intended to crack that DRM, marketed as being for removing that DRM, etc

    Pretty neat, huh? Whenever DRM exists without the authority of the copyright holder, beating it isn't "circumvention" under DMCA. If the DRM scheme happens to be a widely used one, then could open up competition for e-readers, removing the legal barrier to innovation, reader sales, usage of the reader, etc.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      DMCA is a US only law, you might as well be quoting housing association rules in this story from the UK

      maybe some Belgians on this site will quote some of their laws too, just as applicable

      • by jonbryce (703250)

        The applicable law in the UK is the EU Copyright Directive, which applies to Belgium as well.

      • by Trogre (513942)

        Fair enough, but you must realise that the DMCA is just the USA's ratification of the WIPO Copyright Treaty, to which the UK is also a signatory.

        And Belgium.

  • Putting aside the fact that everyone here hates DRM (me included), is what WHSmith did unreasonable? I assume it's their standard practise to add this protection to what they sell. While we might object on a number of ground (efficacy being one of them) I'm sure they see DRM as a sensible thing to do to protect the material they sell from piracy. Would you expect a retailer to check this "anti-theft" measure to be ok with the publisher first? Do they normally check before they fit those RFID type tags to pr

    • by RDW (41497)

      'While we might object on a number of grounds (efficacy being one of them) I'm sure they see DRM as a sensible thing to do to protect their business model by locking purchasers into their ecosystem.'

      FTFY :-)

      To be fair, I think Kobo uses Adobe DRM, which probably means there's some cross compatibility (but not with, e.g., Kindle, unless you strip the DRM).

    • by jonbryce (703250)

      The big difference is that DRM prevents people from reading the book on anything other than a WH Smith approved device, either their own e-book reader, or iDevice/Android app if they have one. RFID tags on shop merchandise get deactivated when you pay for the product, and don't affect your ability to use the product.

      Now that music downloads are DRM free, I can go to lots of different stores and find out which one is selling the track I want at the cheapest price. That is not possible with ebooks or video

      • by LihTox (754597)

        I wonder if you could consider adding DRM to be "creating a derivative work", since it no longer functions in the same way as the author intended?

  • Somethign smells (Score:5, Informative)

    by Nate the greatest (2261802) on Thursday March 21, 2013 @09:18AM (#43233477)
    This is a bogus complaint. First, WHSmith can't add DRM. Their ebookstore is provided by and run by Kobo. Second, that label has been changed in less than a day. The ebooks no longer say that they have DRM, and that suggests this was just a website bug: http://www.whsmith.co.uk/EProducts/Bangkok-Burn-Bangkok-Series-1+eBook+KB00106286902 [whsmith.co.uk]
    • Thought it was odd when it first came up on the fire hose and had a definition of DRM as Digital Restriction Managment :o
      • by Nerdfest (867930)

        That is the definition of DRM. People can use the 'rights' in there, but it's incorrect. DRM restricts you, it doesn't manage your rights.

        • by lxs (131946)

          True, but writing it that way is only a small step up from writing things like "Micro$oft".

          • by Anonymous Coward

            More like writing "copyright violation" instead of "piracy".

            Copyright violation and digital restrictions being the correct term for what it actually is, with digital rights management and piracy being marketing terms.

  • by gbesta (1417267) on Thursday March 21, 2013 @09:20AM (#43233503)
    Just read through the forum that is linked to on the blog. It appears that it is a glitch on the WHSmith website. Everything is listed as having DRM, even if it doesn't have DRM. When you click the link it goes to Kobo to make the purchase, and the book is listed as DRM free.
    • by c0d3g33k (102699)

      And yet ...

      Everything is listed as having DRM, and for a reasonable percentage of the customer base, affixing a DRM label to an ebook *will* cause lost sales. That's not exactly a harmless error, whether or not DRM is actually present. The author has a legitimate grievance.

  • by Ravensfire (209905) on Thursday March 21, 2013 @09:26AM (#43233561) Homepage

    There was a post on the Kobo boards [kboards.com] where someone contacted Kobo about this. Apparently there was a known problem on the WHSmith website where it would show the books as having DRM. When they'd go to Kobo to actually DL the books it would be DRM free. Just looked at the books on WHSmith's website and getting a different format availability than the OP's blog - Format Availability: epub. Apparently they've fixed the bug.

    • And sgroyle, this really just look like a cheap grab at publicity for your books. You seriously need to update your blog with an apology at least to Kobo and probably to WHSmith.

    • But that is the point! I personally would never see the Correct info at the Kobo website since I would never purchase it if it said it was DRMed in the first place! Maybe it makes no difference to some people, but there are many like me that will not buy if is says DRM!
  • Just because you think there is DRM, doesn't mean there is DRM. For example, on the App Store, paid-for ePub books always _look_ as if they have DRM to a naive person, even when they don't.

    ePub books are basically .zip files. If you have DRM, then there is a file describing the DRM, and a file containing a list of which files are encrypted (so a book could have an unencrypted title page, contents, and sample chapter). On paid-for App Store books without DRM, the DRM-related files are there, but the list
  • If the DRM is unwanted by the authors, then the authors should issue a C&D against WHSmith. WHSMith must either remove DRM from your works before distributing, or, if that approach is incompatible with their preferred distribution model, WHSmith must forfeit their license to create digital copies completely. In the latter case, WHSmith would be entitled a refund of any fees that they paid for such a license. The authors would then have to find an alternative distributor who would not want to put DR
  • I apparently need more coffee, as I read the topic as "Will Smith Putting DRM in EBooks Without Permission From The Authors", which would have been a strange sort of awesome.

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