Friday, February 25, 2011

Kindle and Calibre - DRM and Plugins

This is very much the elephant in the room of ebooks. I make no secret of the fact that I despise Digital Rights Management (DRM). It's an attempt to use technology to solve a social problem. As a result it is always quickly broken and instead of stopping the copyright infringers it makes it hard for honest people to use files they have already purchased. I've already posted about a situation where I attempted to remove DRM for someone, but failed and ended up pirating it (to my personal dismay). There has been at least one study that shows people will turn to piracy to get what they need out of ebooks that have DRM. The online comic XKCD has a persuasive argument why DRM makes criminals out of us all. So I'm not fond of DRM*.

In short, DRM only stops honest people from being able to use a file the way they expect to be able to. It does nothing at all to stop the "pirates". The people who want to make a file widely available will always be able to break the technology used to create DRM, and as a result the pirated copy of a book will always be more useful than the one laden with crippling DRM. As a publisher, you NEVER want a pirate to offer a better product than your own. That's stupidity in marketing.

As an aside, I have repeatedly argued for a different kind of DRM scheme that embeds a user's information in a file in multiple ways without restricting the file's use (watermarking). I have absolutely no issue with a file I download having information that will allow a company to see if I have put that file on a file-sharing site. I don't share my files anyway. Such a scheme would not cripple the file, meaning that normal non-techie people can use it fine. Yes, it's still technology and therefore people could still remove the ID from the file and pirate it, but it would be less likely to happen, in my opinion. People would rather be honest than dishonest.
Getting back to the discussion at hand, while some publishers offer DRM-free books (such as Baen Books), most cripple their books, making them impossible to read on multiple devices unless you register every device and download them specifically to those devices. For many bookstores, you can't register a competing device, so if you have a Sony and want to read a book you bought for Kindle on it, you're out of luck.

Let me state this right now: Calibre will NOT help you break DRM. Calibre is a management program, not a piracy program.

However, Calibre is an open source program that allows plugins, and there have been multiple plugins created for Calibre that will remove almost any type of DRM from any file you import into Calibre. I want to stress: this is not legal everywhere, and any justification you make for it is an excuse. If you decide to hunt down anti-DRM plugins for Calibre, do so fully aware that what you are doing is probably illegal and possibly immoral as well. You may disagree with me, but I won't lie to myself. What I did to help Tim and Jane was wrong, even if it was moral in some sense. And if I were to, say, remove all DRM from every book I purchase it would also be technically illegal, even though I do NOT share my book files.

If you really want to be a bad consumer and strip DRM from your ebooks you will have to use an internet search to find the files you need, because I cannot and will not link to them or host them here. First, Amazon has an understandable desire to sue people who help others to break DRM. Second, DRM tech is constantly advancing as the DRM peddlers continue their futile attempts to stay ahead of the techies who enjoy removing stupid things like DRM. So a link to a DRM removal tool would soon become obsolete anyway.
Side Thought: DRM peddlers are like drug dealers. "Sure, c'mon, we can get rid of your nasty hallucipirates, just give us a lot of money and we'll give you our latest and greatest." And the DRM might work for a bit, but they will soon have to return for another hit.
If you are determined to strip DRM from your Kindle ebooks, here's some hints. First, you may want to install Kindle for PC or Kindle for Mac. And you might want to download any ebooks you want to strip of DRM to those programs. When you do an internet search, you maybe should look up something about Calibre, plugins and DRM. You should not have to sign up for any forum or pay any money for the plugins. I can't tell you what exact searches will work, or if you'll be able to find what you are looking for. But hey, if you are determined, good luck.
One last note: If I learn that you've used this information to pirate ebooks and share them with everybody, I'll consider you lower than pond scum and scorn you for the rest of your life. If you want to remove DRM, remove it for private use, not copyright infringement.
Let's move on to a less dangerous subject. How about, oh, Calibre plugins!

Adding a plugin to Calibre is very easy. First, you find the plugin you want to add. There's a good list of plugins here, and they include some really neat stuff. For Kindle 3 users, check out the collections management plugin.

Each plugin comes in the form of a zip file (don't extract it, it needs to stay a zip file). Simply download it to your computer somewhere you can find it again.

Next, you need to tell Calibre to load up the plugin.
  • Click on the Preferences button.
  • Then, down in the lower left should be a "Plugins" button. Click that.
  • At the bottom of the window that opens is an "Add a new plugin" button. Click it, and you'll get a search window.
  • Find your downloaded zip file, click "Open", and let it install. You might get a warning about the danger of a plugin. As long as you downloaded the plugin from a trusted source, you should be ok and can click through.
  • Now your plugin will show up in the list of plugins. At this point, if it needs to be customized, you can select the plugin and click the "Customize plugin" button. What you get will depend on what features the plugin has, if any. Many plugins don't require any customization.
  • Once you'll installed and customized, if needed, then you need to restart Calibre. You can do that quickly by typing Ctrl+R.
  • It is safe to delete the original zip file you downloaded once the plugin has been installed.
  • If the plugin needs to have a menu item or toolbar button added, go to Preferences and then "Customize the Toolbar". Use the dropdown to find what menu or toolbar it needs to be added to, then find the action in the "Available actions" box, select it, and add it to the other box. Use the arrows to move it to where you want it to show up.
Once you've installed a plugin and restarted Calibre, the plugin should be working immediately. A handful of plugins, like the collections one, require a couple more steps to make them work best. Read the instructions that come with the plugin to make sure. Quite a few plugins don't require any effort on your part at all, they just work.

If you are a developer yourself and familiar with Python, there is good information about how to create a Calibre plugin in the Calibre User Manual.

That it for these topics. If I ever get a Kindle 3, maybe I'll write up how to actually use the collections plugin to your best advantage. But my poor little K1 doesn't have collections on it, so I'm clueless about it at the moment.

* There is one single exception to my distaste of DRM, and that's library books. I may go into detail later, as I intend to discuss library books and the Kindle, but at the moment it's enough to say that I don't mind DRM on library books.


Anonymous said...

Just search "kindle" on demonoid for a beautiful DRM free feast of fiction.

Tegan said...

And see, this is the problem. I don't want free books. That hurts the author. I want to be honest and pay for what I get. But in order to get DRM-free books, people resort to torrents and file-sharing.

I really don't recommend getting any book off a torrent, unless you've already bought the digital copy and want a DRM-free copy.

Alex said...

I agree with you on almost all of the points. The only one I am unsure of is:

Is the money actually going to the author, or to the publisher who then passes on a smaller (much) to the author.

Considering the capability of the internet to disseminate information, I don't understand why someone hasn't set up an open publication system to allow authors to put their works online and charge for their own work, so that they truly get the spoils of the writing.

Radiohead/Nine Inch Nails/Other Muso's have done it, why not authors?

Tegan said...

Some have. And I've bought more than one book that way now.