Microsoft fears e-book piracy

As electronic books (eBooks) really start to take off, the worries about content piracy also begin to escalate, according to Dick Brass, Microsoft's vice president of technology development. Giving a keynote address at the Seybold publishing conference this week, he characterised such piracy, which effectively takes away the ability of authors and publishers to make money on eBooks, as "screwing with the golden goose."

The easiest way to "kill" a publisher is the "casual redistribution of popular content," Brass said. "It's up to publishers and authors to determine whether they want to be distributed."

One of the features in Microsoft Reader, software that enables users to read eBooks, is a rules-based copy protection system, he explained. Authors and publishers can set limitations on the use of their eBooks, such that a reader is allowed access to a certain electronic title for a week or forever, or two readers are permitted to read the same copy of an eBook.

However, any system can be hacked into, Brass pointed out. "Reader has very strong encryption; we've been out (with the product for) three weeks, so far, so good," he said. "We aimed high -- I said I wanted one week (without being hacked) at least," he quipped.

The key to piracy prevention is to "establish an honest market first," Brass explained. "The principal mistake the music industry made was they chose not to be first" in electronic music dissemination, he said. "I think our industry (book publishing) won't make the same mistake and we will beat the pirates."

It's vital to educate the market on a massive international scale. "To a large number of people, stealing bits is not seen as stealing," Brass said. "That monstrous falsehood provides righteous justification for widespread thievery." He explained he had been stunned by the attitude of some students doing internships at Microsoft recently. "They all used Napster and said it was just sharing," he said.

Brass described the stealing of music, video, film and book content as no less an action than "interfering with the engine of progress for the twentieth first century". He had harsh words to describe those people issuing countermessages that engaging in such acts is OK -- "trust fund Marxists," who have made their money already and don't mind other folks losing out to pirates, and "digital defeatists," who believe that the technology is so far ahead of any type of regulation that it's impossible to prevent it. "I don't believe information wants to be free," Brass said. "I believe authors want to be paid."

Going hand-in-hand with an honest market and education is the need for enforcement to stress that such piracy is breaking the law, according to Brass.

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