Don’t judge a book by its content — at least not if it’s copy-protected: German researchers are working on a new DRM system that would change individual words of a story to track pirated book copies back to their original owners.

photo: gazzaPax

Well, this is one way to do it: Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute is working on a new ebook DRM dubbed SiDiM that would prevent piracy by changing the actual text of a story, swapping out words to make individualized copies that could be tracked by the original owner of the ebook.

A Fraunhofer infographic showing how SiDiM would turn one book into individual copies.

A Fraunhofer infographic showing how SiDiM would turn one book into individual copies.

Reports about the work first popped up on German blogs this week, with one blogger revealing examples that include changing wordings like “invisible” to “not visible” and “unhealthy” to “not healthy.” Other examples included sentences in which the order of words was changed, or in which hyphens were added to words.

The idea behind SiDiM is similar to the way rights holders have been trying to protect music and video for some time. Instead of trying to lock down copies through technical measures that prevent copying, so-called fingerprinting measures simply add markers to a work that make it possible to identify the original purchaser. In theory, this prevents people from sharing their works for the fear of being caught.

However, in music files, these types of changes are a lot less notable than a machine rewriting a book, which is why it’s unlikely that authors and literature friends would embrace SiDiM. The system is currently in testing, and Fraunhofer secured some state funding to run these tests and even got a subsidiary of the German book publisher’s association to join.

But here’s the twist: German blog Lesen.net pointed out that the book publishers actually joined because they’re interested in finding alternatives to the traditional lock-down approach of DRM, simply because they’ve learned in the past that even the strongest lock can be broken.

Image courtesy of (CC-BY-SA) Flickr user gazzaPax.

  1. But what if a pirate has 2 or more versions of the secured documents? He could find all the differences and then create randomly another version and so no one could tell where it started from.

    1. Then you’ve instantly broken the DRM scheme. If there’s one difference in each copy, you just DIFF the two files and you can see what’s been changed.

      Things could get more difficult if there’s more than one change in each copy, and if some of the changes are shared across multiple titles – that way you’d need to DIFF a larger population of files.

      The real value of this proposal is not that it represents any kind of challenge to or solution for piracy, but just that it represents a more graceful exit strategy, for publishers, from current forms of DRM.

      1. Actually, no. Read Disappearing Cryptography to better understand how to jam simple attempts like this. (It takes a bit more work.)


  2. spotmagicsolis Friday, June 14, 2013

    This is a great. We have our own way of doing just what these guys are proposing but no one seemed to care when we tossed it around in 2009. Or maybe the publishing cartel is hard to get into. Probably the industry has changed by now. Idk. Good going guys! Let me know if you want to collaborate!

    1. spotmagicsolis Friday, June 14, 2013

      BTW, we sold one book and it works great!

  3. sounds brilliant.get approval from the writer themselves on which words can be swapped by synonyms and there’s no quality lost

  4. As an author, I just feel abused right now.

    SiDiM basically means that, for the first time in history, DRM becomes more important than the content of the book itself.

    Should authors accept that, the Pandora’s box is going to open.

    Not only should this company stop this right now, but it should also fire the guys who had this “brilliant” idea. And the German state should be absolutely blamed as it is quite clear that, for this state, culture is worthless — since any evil company can alter text in books…

  5. Hang on “not visible” is not quite he same as “invisible”.
    A lot of small changes in the same book can change the story greatly.
    ALso, suppose a student and teacher have supposedly slightly different versions of the saem DRM’d book. The teacher may mark the student down for “incorrect” quotations.

  6. I think the most interesting part of this story is the idea of “hyphens” or “markers”, more than “text changing”. By inserting a couple of hundred small “markers, or extra spaces” throughout the book, it would not change the text in the least but would in fact as a book “fingerprint”.

  7. what ferret said.

  8. You can’t do automatic replacement like that without ruining the meaning of the text
    for example, that headline where they changed the name of Tyson Gay to Tyson Homosexual.

    I couldn’t reason a story with not-visible cloaks.

  9. This issue very clearly violates the Moral Rights of authors, and should be shot down by every author and their lawyers.

  10. Reblogged this on Westminster I.T Support and commented:
    What a genius idea! I really do love how things just keep evolving, the constant battle between the copyright laws and pirates.


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