Digital Editions and Content Portability

Earlier this week we released Digital Editions 1.5 as a Beta on Adobe Labs (get it here). One of the key features is an enhanced DRM that provides content portability. Of course, the first question that users want to know is “What does this really mean?” This blog is an answer to that question.

The process that happens when you buy an ebook with Digital Editions 1.0 is that your book is downloaded and also a “voucher” (license) is downloaded from a secure server. The voucher contains the key to open your book. That voucher is then stored in secure database (the “voucher store”). That voucher store is locked to your machine and thus so is your book. This has caused some real problems when people upgrade to a new computer or their hard disk dies.

For Digital Editions 1.5 we have enhanced the DRM capability and changed how it works so that when your book and voucher are downloaded, the voucher does still get stored in the voucher store, but then your ebook is copied and the contents of the voucher are written INTO the copy of the document itself. (The original is backed up into a subfolder of your My Digital Editions folder). This means that the book and its key and license are self-contained. Can you then just copy your book to another machine and open it? Yes, with a very important “BUT”.

When you install Digital Editions, the very first action it takes is to contact a secure server at Adobe to get info that it uses to secure your books on your machine. This is very similar to what Digital Editions did. But, with DE 1.5 you have the option to authorize your machine by entering an Adobe ID. All Digital Editions does with the ID is store it on the same server along with the info that came down. This allows us to know that you are you. (Actually we only know that you are whatever Adobe ID you have, Digital Editions doesn’t know or care who you are. Your privacy is very important to us See Adobe’s privacy policy). Then, if you want to copy your content to another machine, all you have to do is go to another machine and install DE 1.5 and authorize that machine with the very same Adobe ID. Then the server downloads the same info so DE knows that your book belongs to you. And you will be able to copy your books back and forth between the two machines as often as you like.

But … you have to authorize your PCs to get this content portability. If you do not authorize your computer, your content will, as in Digital Editions 1.0, be locked to the computer to which it was downloaded. This first Beta release does not actually offer the option to use the old-style “anonymous” mode of use, but the next Beta and the final release version will. But Adobe feels very strongly that all users will be best served by authorizing their computers. Digital Editions does not use the ID for any purpose other than providing the portability by identifying you and your books. The ID is not used for any other purpose, public or private.

It is also important to note that in the final release you will be able to decline to authorize your computer and then change your mind and authorize it later. And, when you do, all your books will become portable to any other computer you have authorized. BUT, really important point: If you have two (or more) computers that are not authorized and you buy books with each of them, then later authorize the PCs, only the first-authorized computer will have fully migrated books. The other computer(s) can then be authorized and books shared with the first-authorized computer, but the books that were downloaded anonymously on the other computers are forever locked to those computers. So, again, Adobe really really recommends that you authorize your computers as a matter of course. There is really no good reason not to do so – it is in your own best interest!

Note that this first beta does not have the final UI for the authorization process. The next beta will include the “setup assistant” which is a complete wizard-driven workflow that guides the user through the process of how and why they should authorize their computer. But it will also provide a way for users to decline to authorize their computer (even though we think that is not a good idea). If the user declines to authorize their computer at the beginning they can always do so later – but with the caveats outlined in the previous paragraph.

You can authorize up to 6 different machines. And up to 6 different devices. At present, there aren’t any publicly available devices that support Digital Editions, but they are coming soon! Also note that some publishers explicitly specify that their books cannot be transferred to any other machine than the one to which it was downloaded. Adobe of course abides by this restriction. You can find out if your book has this restriction by looking the book’s info, available in the library pane by selecting the book and pressing Ctrl+I (or using the book’s drop-down menu).

What about your existing books, that you downloaded with Adobe Reader, Acrobat or Digital Editions 1.0? When you first install Digital Editions 1.5, the application will migrate all your DRM-protected books, from whatever source, into the new enhanced DRM format. If you have authorized your computer, then those books are now portable to any similarly authorized computer with DE 1.5.

What about library books? Well, library books are somewhat special. Your existing library books (ones that you have checked out from the library when you upgrade to DE 1.5) will NOT be migrated. You’ll have to finish reading them in the old application, or early-return them and check them out again. Also, library books cannot currently be transferred from PC to PC. They can be transferred to a device, but not to another PC.