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Copyright Traps to be used in eBook DRM

Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute in Germany have come up with a novel way of fighting eBook piracy with a trick that pays homage to more old-fashioned techniques for protecting copyright works.

The project “Secure Documents by Individual Marking”, or SiDim, is a type of digital rights management (“DRM”) which takes the original eBook and slightly alters the text for each copy of the book sold, so that each copy is ever so slightly different – and unique.

The project which has secured back from the German government, as well as the media and publishing industry, doesn’t use technical measures to try and block copies being reproduced.  Instead because each book is unique with its own fingerprint or DNA, should that book later turn up on a file-sharing site for example, the copyright owner can immediately tell who the book, which is being shared, was sold to.  The theory is that people will simply not upload and share their books for fear of being caught.

So how does this work?  SiDim will change words within the book – for instance it may change the word “little” for “small” or “not visible” to “invisible”, perhaps the punctuation may be slightly changed or the grammar and construction of the sentence altered.

How authors will in practice react to this remains to be seen.  For some authors even subtly changing the words, punctuation or construction of sentences could be a step too far.  Even if it doesn’t dramatically change the book, they may feel that this is altering their artistic work.

Researchers, keenly aware that attempting to stop copying by technological means simply becomes an arms race, have realised that the better approach is simply to allow copying, but make it clear that if you do copy without permission you’re likely to get caught.

These copyright-traps, or copyright Easter-Eggs, are similar to those often used by cartographers to “trap” anyone who copies their map.  A “trap-street” for example is a made-up street name, which does not exist – or perhaps is depicted on the map differently to how it should be, so that if the map is copied by a third party its immediately obvious where it’s been copied from.

There are many examples of copyright Easter-Eggs including on Google Maps – just one example being Moat Lane, Finchley, London N3 in the UK which does not actually exist.   These are not confined to maps though – dictionary compilers also use them.    The New Oxford American Dictionary — includes an entry for the fictitious word “esquivalence.”

So do these copyright traps work?  Absolutely, the use of “esquivalience” – which fittingly was said to mean “the wilful avoidance of one’s official responsibilities” was enough to entrap Dictionary.com.

Main Image – The “town” of Argelton appears in the middle of a field in Lancashire, UK on Google Maps but does not exist.  The clue is in the name – “Not Real G”

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