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The DOJ's Publishing Lawsuit May Doom Digital Rights Management

The DOJ's Publishing Lawsuit May Doom Digital Rights Management
Photograph by Mario Tama/Getty Images

In the days following the announcement of the U.S. Department of Justice lawsuit against publishers accused of colluding with Apple to raise e-book prices, much of the U.S. publishing industry decamped to the U.K. for the annual London Book Fair. Not surprisingly, the suit was a major topic of conversation at cocktail parties and in booths across the Earls Court Exhibition Centre—in particular speculation about whether the DOJ suit might finally push big publishers to consider easing their requirements for digital rights management (DRM), the controls that keep e-book readers from being able to pass a copy of a title on to a friend.

Publishing-industry futurists—individuals typically far removed from the real-world calculations being crunched in publishers’ accounting departments—have long argued that DRM inhibits e-book innovation and prevents small e-book retailers from entering the market and competing with the giant distributors (read: Amazon). In London this year, says Lorraine Shanley of publishing consultancy Market Partners International, more mainstream publishing executives are talking seriously about ending DRM restrictions. “It would allow individual publishers much more flexibility with their own content and in making it available directly to consumers,” says Shanley. “And it would allow consumers to access content without getting locked into one device—e.g., the Kindle.”