Lego Robot Mechanically Removes DRM from eBooks

September 12, 2013 | 23:46
Lego Robot Mechanically Removes DRM from eBooks
Lego Robot Mechanically Removes DRM from eBooks
Peter Purgathofer, an associate professor at the Vienna University of Technology, has built a Lego robot that strips DRM off Amazon's eBooks.

Purgathofer used a Lego Mindstorm robotics kit to create a contraption that controls both a Kindle and a MacBook. The robot flips through the pages of the eBook by pressing the ‘next’ button. It then hits the space bar of the Mac to activate the camera and snap a picture. The files are sent to a cloud based text recognition service that converts the images into a plain text file.

Of course, there’s plenty of software out there that does the job in a less laborious manner. But Purgathofer’s considers his DIY Kindle scanner to be an art project rather than a practical device. His aim is to draw attention to the loss of rights of book owners buyers in the digital age.

Digital Rights Management schemes were initially added to digital products in an attempt to combat piracy. A quick scan of any of the numerous torrent sites proofs it hasn’t been very successful in that respect.

Second-generation DRM systems go beyond mere copy control. Users are restricted in the use of content by the terms and conditions of the rights holder. It may restrict the number of views, the kinds and number of devices it plays on, the ability to alter it. DRM may even be employed to monitor user to learn their preferences. Ironically, DRM only affects paying customers because it’s stripped off of pirated material.

The effect is a transformation of what it means to shell out money for a cultural product. Instead of owning a book (or an album or a movie) you license it, even though eBooks are often in the same price range as hard copy ones. From the Kindle Store’s Terms of Use: ‘Kindle Content is licensed, not sold, to you by the Content Provider.’

To illustrate his point Purgathofer wrote in the text accompanying his video of the Kindle scanner: ‘In 2002, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos wrote in an open letter to the authors guild: »When someone buys a book, they are also buying the right to resell that book, to loan it out, or to even give it away if they want. Everyone understands this.« []
A few years later, his company built a device that effectively violates the very ideas he expressed in this statement.’

The loss of rights is illustrated by an incident that happened to a Norwegian woman in 2012. She was notified by email that she had violated Amazon’s Terms of Service and that, consequently, her account was shut down. Her Kindle was wiped of all content and she lost access to her library of paid-for books. In another case Amazon remotely deleted George Orwell’s 1984 from customers’ devices when it realized the secondary seller which had sold it through its channels did not actually own the rights. A 17-year old not only lost his book but also the notes he had added for a school assignment.

Image: Daniele Gay

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