• Anticopying Software Disappears From Downloaded Audiobooks
  • April 17, 2008
  • Law Firm: Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP - Los Angeles Office
  • Following in the footsteps of several major digital music sellers, several of the world’s biggest book publishers are forgoing antipiracy technology on electronic downloads of audiobooks.

    The move will let customers transfer digital files of audiobooks between computers, iPods, and cellphones, as well as share them with others. Removing copy restrictions could also facilitate the sale of audiobook downloads by online retailers.

    The move is intended to spur growth in the audiobook industry, which produced $923 million in sales in 2007, according to the Audio Publishers Association.

    The first to announce that it was stripping D.R.M., or digital rights management software, from its audiobooks was Random House. In a letter to industry partners sent out last month, the world’s largest publisher stated that starting this month, it would sell all of its audiobooks as unprotected MP3 files, unless retail partners or authors specified otherwise.

    Penguin Group, the second-largest U.S. publisher, is poised to follow Random House’s example. A spokesman said the publisher would offer all of its audiobooks as MP3 downloads on eMusic, a major digital music service. The Penguin spokesman said the company decided to offer unprotected audiobook downloads after seeing the major music labels strip D.R.M. from the digital music they sell on Amazon.com.

    Simon & Schuster Audio has also announced its intention to offer unprotected downloads of 150 audiobooks sometime this spring.

    Should the trend take hold, it could shift the balance of power in the realm of digital audiobooks. Right now, Audible, a Seattle company that Amazon.com bought for $300 million in January, dominates the market. The company provides the audiobooks for Apple’s iTunes store. Apple’s iPod plays only audiobooks in Audible’s format or unprotected formats like MP3. Publishers are loath to limit consumers to a single online store like iTunes for audiobooks playable on the iPod. The unprotected MP3 format will allow other online retailers to sell audiobooks that will work on all digital devices, including the iPod.

    Initially, publishers, like the music labels and movie studios, embraced D.R.M. out of concern that pirated copies would cut into revenue. To see if this concern was justified, when it first started offering D.R.M.-free audiobooks for sale, Random House encoded these copies with a digital watermark and monitored online file sharing networks. Its finding: Pirated copies of its audiobooks were actually being made from physical CDs or D.R.M.-encoded digital downloads whose anticopying protections were overridden, not the D.R.M.-free audiobooks.