Getting to Know Readium LCP

Published: 20th May 2024

FBReader has recently adopted Readium LCP, a DRM solution for ebooks. In this post, I explain what DRM is and how the Readium LCP differs from other DRMs. I’m going to write a second part dedicated to more practical questions about integrating Readium LCP with our reading system.

DRM for Ebooks: What Is It and Why?

DRM, or Digital Rights Management, is a system aimed at protecting the rights of digital content creators. In the case of ebooks, a DRM-protected ebook cannot be easily shared from one person to another. Typically, each user must purchase their own copy. Some systems allow for family sharing, mirroring the traditional model of paper books.

Does DRM effectively protect eBooks from unauthorised copying?

Technically, the answer is “no”. Any DRM protection solution will be breached sooner or later, and any popular protection system will be breached swiftly. In the era of artificial intelligence, I expect that hacking DRM will become unnecessary. It will be feasible to write a simple script that captures screenshots of all pages, recognises the text, and converts it into an unprotected, formatted ePub file.

However, a law-abiding user is unlikely to undertake such actions. If the DRM doesn’t cause additional problems, many customers will opt to purchase books legally. That is similar to security measures in a store: while it’s impossible to deter all shoplifters, most people choose to pay for their purchases.

Therefore, the main advantage of DRM is straightforward: it enables content creators to earn money from their work.

What Is Wrong with DRM-protected Ebooks

Though a DRM-protected book pretends to be an electronic version of a physical book, there are significant flaws. The two most important are

  • You cannot read ebooks outside of their “native” system. If you buy a book from Amazon, you have to read it with Kindle. You cannot switch to another reader. Moreover, it is unclear what will happen to the purchased ebooks if your bookseller’s business discontinues.
  • You cannot transfer the rights to a book you no longer need to another person. The book can only be opened while you are logged into your account.

Such a solution might be profitable for the booksellers, but it is definitely wrong for the book readers.

Is Readium LCP Different?

Readium LCP is not a proprietary solution. It is proposed by the Readium Foundation and managed by EDRLab, a non-profit organisation based in France. Readium LCP is open for implementation by third-party developers of both server solutions and reader applications.

That means you are not tied to a specific book reader when you purchase an ebook protected with Readium LCP. You can open the same book in any LCP-supporting application. And vice versa, you can open books from different providers in the same book-reading app.

You don’t need to sign in to your account to open a book. When you open the book for the first time, the reader will ask you for a passphrase — that’s all! The reader app doesn’t need your name or other personal data to open the book.

How does the protection from unauthorised copying work? Each time you open a protected ebook on a device connected to the network, the reader asks the provider’s server to confirm the license. That means if the file leaks and is tried to be open on a thousand devices simultaneously, the provider will know about that and will probably revoke the license.

But do not worry about the network connection. You do not need the Internet to open a protected book. The license status will only be checked when the connection becomes active. Moreover, if the provider’s site is down, this won’t stop you from reading the book. So, if the provider’s business ends, your books remain yours.

If you transfer an ebook to another person, your provider will think you have changed your reading device. The provider is able to limit the number of such changes, but I do not expect that providers will introduce too strict rules.

Additionally, Readium LCP specification allows the issuing of time-limited licenses. That makes the protection suitable for ebook libraries, not only for the stores.

Is Readium LCP a Perfect DRM Solution?

Nothing is perfect in the world, and Readium LCP is no exception. Providers can revoke licenses, which can cause incidents like the Kindle 1984 case.

A more immediate concern is that Readium LCP is still not supported by all booksellers and reading applications. Ideally, all ebooks would be openable by all readers. While I don’t anticipate Readium LCP becoming the universal standard soon, the community around it is expanding, and I expect its adoption to increase significantly in the coming years.

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