What are the

  • advantages,
  • possible drawbacks or
  • potential risks

of buying ebooks with DRM (from the readers perspective, compared to non-DRM books)? Is DRM a good or a bad thing for readers? Does it matter at all?

  • 1
    While the question doesn't ask for it, fair warning: I will ruthlessly downvote any answers that provide mere opinion without proof, due to controversial nature of the topic. See examples of opinion vs proof in my related questions here and here
    – DVK
    Dec 29, 2013 at 14:10

2 Answers 2


The premise in your question's title does not seem to be accurate. E.g. Amazon's terms and conditions state that you don't own the ebook, you buy the right to view it on your Kindle.

All content included in or made available through any Amazon Service, such as text, graphics, logos, button icons, images, audio clips, digital downloads, and data compilations is the property of Amazon or its content suppliers and protected by United States and international copyright laws. The compilation of all content included in or made available through any Amazon Service is the exclusive property of Amazon and protected by U.S. and international copyright laws.

Similar conditions apply to DRM-ed material from other suppliers (it probably has to—but don't quote me on that, I am no lawyer—as ownership would imply that you can do what you want with something (within legal bounds))

This forms no risk at all, as long as you are aware of this restriction. Unfortunately most people are not, and they speak about buying a DRM-ed ebook and are surprised if an ebook is removed from their device, even if that has happened to many before them (e.g. the erasure of books by George Orwell in 2009; a Kindle being wiped with no explanation).

The disadvantage, IMHO, compared to actually buying a non DRM-ed book is that you are dependent on some software setup to allow you to view material on a specific device. If that device breaks, you might not be able to "activate" the content on a newly acquired device if the original provider is not available any more to allow this.

  • Please provide a quote of (or at least a link to Amazon's T&C)
    – DVK
    Dec 29, 2013 at 14:11
  • @DVK Sorry, I was still updating my answer, not all Dutch people can write as fast as Simon Vestdijk (search for "faster" on that page).
    – Anthon
    Dec 29, 2013 at 14:25
  • 2
    So actually you pay but you don't buy anything. Amazons TOS are quite misleading, weren't they already sued because of it?
    – user43
    Dec 29, 2013 at 14:41
  • @ŁukaszL. - that's the usual TOS for media, I think.
    – DVK
    Dec 29, 2013 at 16:05


  1. Some DRM schemas are severely restricted to the devices and software they run on. For example, MS Reader's .lit files DRM were toed to MS Reader software that ONLY ran on Windows.

    So if you are forced to go without a Windows based PC device (e.g. use Linux and Android for your desktop/mobile; and have no money or other reasons not to own Windows), you have lost the ability to read your already-paid-for books

  2. Some DRM schemas lock you into an absolute control from the publisher, to the point of them being able to erase the title from your device.

    Practically, the one and only time it was known to happen, Amazon remotely erased the book that they said was published violating author's copyright, illegally. And refunded.

    But the risk is that they can do this for ANY of the DRMed ebooks you bought (since such books are restricted to the Kindle software which they control, merely making a backup copy is useless); and done at their whim, and without reimbursement. Yes, this is probably covered in TOS when purchasing the books, but be assured it isn't made painfully obvious to casual reader.

  3. If the ebook is inconvenient to read on your device, you are locked in - can not move it to another device/software that is more to your taste, unless that other device supports the same DRM scheme AND DRM allows copying.

    Have a BeOS desktop? You can't read your book there, since there's no Kindle, or MS Reader, or (afaik) Adobe readers for it.

    Want to avoid installing buggy and virus-susceptible Adobe PDF reader on your Windows system? You can't read Adobe DRM books on competing PDF readers.

    Kindle software runs slow and sluggish as hell on your older smartphone? You can't fire up FBReader, or any other competing ebook reader software that works much better and faster to read your books.

  4. As a note, sometimes "what if a license server or your internet connection is down" is raised as a downside. This might be true for some DRM, but definitely is NOT true for all of them. Amazon's DRM doesn't require an internet connection once the book is bought.

  • 1
    Worse than not being compatible on other OSes is that MS killed the DRM servers entirely last year. Some of my friends were burned when Fictionwise was bought out because B&N didn't have the rights to repackage the books with their DRM. neowin.net/news/microsoft-to-shut-down-microsoft-reader-support Dec 29, 2013 at 18:52
  • @DanNeely - I don't know enough about which DRM schemes require active server connections vs cached license to be comfortable including that. You should post as a separate answer as you seem to know :)
    – DVK
    Dec 29, 2013 at 21:22

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