If you read ebooks, you've probably heard the term "DRM," but what is ebook DRM? DRM stands for digital rights management, and it exists to control access to copyrighted materials. Basically, it prevents users from illegally copying and using software and data, such as an ebook.
What does it mean for an ebook to be protected with DRM?
DRM locks a file so that only the person who purchased it can view it, and only on the device or app from that vendor. In other words, if you buy a book on Amazon, you can only read it on your Kindle or your Kindle app. Not only that, but you cannot share the book with others, even if they have the same device (except through Amazon’s limited lending program).
Other restrictions exist: you are limited on how many of your devices you can download the same ebook to at a time, and you cannot print the book (if you can, it will have a watermark or will only allow you to print a small part of it).
Why have ebook DRM?
Authors put a lot of time and money into their novels, and they don’t want those books to be stolen. After all, that money is their livelihood! DRM exists to protect ebooks from being pirated. Unfortunately, since DRM can be broken, it is more of just a deterrent rather than a sure thing. It can also be a hassle for legitimate ebook owners who would like to read their purchased book on various devices.
What ebooks are DRM protected?
Different vendors use different DRM systems to protect ebooks. There are three main systems for ebook DRM.
Amazon has their own DRM that they use on all their ebooks, which means you cannot view Kindle books without a Kindle or the Kindle app. You also cannot share books with others by simply copying files over; you must go through Amazon’s lending program, which is limited.
Apple FairPlay DRM
iTunes uses Apple’s own DRM, so those ebooks can only be read on the Apple Books app.
The other vendors who use DRM all use Adobe’s. This includes Barnes & Noble, Google Play, and Kobo. Ebooks downloaded from these vendors can be viewed using the vendor’s specific device or app (such as a Nook, the nook app, the Google Play Books app, a Kobo ereader, etc.), OR through Adobe Digital Editions, a software created by Adobe that unlocks DRM. Once you’ve bought a book and opened it on Adobe Digital Editions, it becomes connected with your Adobe account and cannot be opened by anyone else (to prevent sharing it).
No Ebook DRM
All these vendors also offer authors and publishers a "no DRM" option. Few publishers choose this option, but many authors do in order to make it easier for their readers to enjoy their books. Smashwords is currently completely DRM free. This means you can simply copy the file onto the device of your choice (MOBI for Kindle and EPUB for other ereaders) without any problems.
With or Without DRM, Sharing Ebooks is Illegal
Just because a book file doesn't have DRM, doesn't mean you can share the file with others. All books are still copyrighted, and sharing ebooks with people who haven't purchased them is illegal. (Amazon does allow readers to lend some purchased books one time to someone of their choice, but, as stated above, there are strict limitations, and authors/publishers have agreed to the lending.)
You can read more about where and how you can download ebooks for all your devices in our blog post here. Keep in mind that restrictions on where you can download ebooks for each device exist because of DRM.
We hope this post helps clear up any questions about DRM and ebooks, but if you have additional questions or comments, please post them below.
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