Hachette UK: DRM 'working very well'

Hachette UK has insisted its model of selling e-books with Digital Rights Management included [and at fair prices] is "working very well", with the risks of changing it "huge" and the upside "negligible". It also confirmed that it was to alter its author contracts in order to make its position on DRM “clearer”.

The publisher's statement, released by Little, Brown chief executive Ursula Mackenzie and which she said reflected Hachette UK's position, came after author Cory Doctorow criticised Hachette UK for writing to some authors warning them against allowing overseas publishers to drop DRM from their books. According to Doctorow, who is an advocate of DRM-free e-books, the letter warns that a no-DRM policy "will make it difficult for the rights granted to us to be properly protected". Doctorow stated that the letter had been sent to authors published by Hachette UK in some territories and with US publisher Tor Books and its sister companies in other territories.

Tor, a Macmillan imprint specialising in science fiction, fantasy and horror, announced earlier this year that it planned to release e-book titles without DRM. Doctorow added that Hachette UK was to modify the language in its author contracts to "ensure that any of his or her licensees of rights in territories not licensed under this agreement" would use DRM.

In the statement, Mackenzie confirmed that the publisher did plan to change the wording in its contracts, but said the modification was designed to make the position clearer and that "variations" on the boiler-plate could be negotiated.

The statement read: "Many contracts from all quarters already contain some form of wording to ensure that the licensee publisher does apply DRM and also sees to it that their sub-licensees and e-tailers apply it too.

"Our new wording is clearer and we will, as always, negotiate variations of that wording with the many parties with which we trade, nearly all of whom agree with the basic principles of our DRM policy."

It is not known if the authors to whom the letter has been sent were originally Tor writers, or those published by Hachette UK, from whom Tor has bought US rights.
A number of Orbit writers including Ian Tregillis,  David Brin, Orson Scott Card, and the English author Charles Stross are also published by Tor in the US. [Tor US is publishing Stross' The Rapture of the Nerds, written with Doctorow, in September.]

The development shows the difficulties in moving to a DRM-free regime where existing (and multiple) author contracts in other territories stipulate that both author and publisher maintain some kind of defence against piracy. Rogers, Coleridge and White managing director Peter Straus, president of the Association of Authors Agents, said agents expected publishers to be vigilant about piracy wherever they published a writer: "We applaud publishers efforts to fight piracy in the territories they control, and by the best means they have available." Straus said publishers also had to be concerned about "leaking" where piracy measures were relaxed in one territory.

Mackenzie, who is also president of the Publishers Association, was critical of Doctorow's position on DRM, saying that it contained "the usual long list of anti-DRM arguments". Mackenzie stated: "We are fully aware that DRM does not inhibit determined pirates or even those who are sufficiently sophisticated to download DRM removal software. The central point is that we are in favour of DRM because it inhibits file-sharing between the mainstream readers who are so valuable to us and our authors."

Hachette UK chief executive Tim Hely Hutchinson has previously said the company continues to back the use of DRM. “Our view is that the advantages greatly outweigh any perceived disadvantages," he told authors and agents in March this year.

Mackenzie said she saw no reason to change this position: "From the early days of e-books, many self-styled experts advised publishers to adopt free or very cheap e-book supply models, perhaps funded by advertising, subscription or other, as yet undeveloped, revenue models.

"We are glad that we have adhered to a model of selling e-books one by one at fair prices and protected by DRM. This model is working very well; although some would like us to change it, the risks are huge and the upside is negligible."