Coraline and the perils of DRM: A case study

In 2003, on the evening when Hugo votes were due, I bought a copy-protected PDF ebook of Coraline from the now-sadly-shut-down ebookstore Fictionwise. I read the book and liked it and probably voted for it.

This past Saturday night, after rewatching the movie of Coraline, I decided to refresh my memory of the book. So I found the PDF and double-clicked it.

The next section of this post recounts in detail my attempts to open the PDF. Spoiler: I couldn't. If you're uninterested in the details, then skip down to the next section break for general discussion of DRM and such.

A dialog box appeared, with the Adobe Reader logo and the following text:

This document requires digital rights management (DRM) features supported by Adobe Digital Editions. This software is free and takes only a couple of minutes to download over a broadband connection.

Would you like to get Adobe Digital Editions now? (No) ((Yes))

Regardless of whether I clicked No or Yes, my browser opened the Adobe Digital Editions home page. So I downloaded Adobe Digital Editions 2.0 and launched it.

After poking around a little in the interface—it wasn't immediately obvious how to proceed—I chose File > Add to Library. I selected the Coraline PDF and clicked Add.

An error dialog appeared:

Unable to add document

Errors were encountered in this item ((OK))

Later, it occurred to me that perhaps I needed to authorize my computer before I could use Adobe Digital Editions. (It didn't say so, but it seemed possible.) So I went to the ~easily findable~ Help > Authorize Computer command.

It asked me to choose from a list of ebook vendors. Fictionwise wasn't listed, so I went with "Adobe ID." I entered the email address and password that I use for Adobe stuff. It didn't accept them.

I told it I had forgotten my password. It took me to a web page for resetting your Adobe ID password. I entered my Adobe email address, and clicked Reset my password, and it said An error occurred while communicating with the server. Please try again. I tried several more times, with a couple of different email addresses, but no dice.

I tried creating a new Adobe ID with my usual email address, but it told me that an ID with that address already exists.

And that appears to be that. There doesn't seem to be any way I can open this PDF.

Paper books that I bought ten years ago are still easibly openable and readable (and loanable to friends) (though not searchable or backupable or carry-in-pocketable), but this PDF that I bought ten years ago is apparently now unusable, apparently because of the DRM that was built into it.

I was already planning to remove the DRM from my iBooks books and remove the DRM from my Kindle books; this is a good reminder to me that it's important to do that kind of thing if you want to ensure longterm access to the books (and other content) that you buy.

As for Coraline, I did a web search, and the first search result was a pirated copy of the PDF, easily and freely available online. That makes me sad; I believe that authors should be paid for their work. But for me at that particular moment, it was awfully convenient, and since I did pay for my copy that I can no longer read through no fault of my own, I have no qualms about having read the pirated copy.

It was awesome of Mr. Gaiman and his publishers (and Fictionwise) to provide the ebook version, and I was very pleased with the convenience of being able to buy it online and download it. I just wish that whoever required the book to have DRM had reconsidered.

PS: If you want to read Coraline in an ebook version (and you haven't already purchased it in an ebook version), I strongly recommend buying it rather than reading the pirated version. For example, you can buy Coraline on Kindle for $6, half the price I paid for the PDF ten years ago. (And you can read Kindle books on most major computer and mobile platforms, in a web browser if nothing else.) And then you can remove the DRM, so that ten years from now you won't have the same problem I had.

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