Books — Digital Locks versus Blockchain Tokens.

Josef Marc
Published in
6 min readJan 16, 2018


The weird thing is, neither has any effect on copyrights. Why do people think they do?

Digital locks mean digital rights management systems (DRM) and end user license agreements (EULA). They hope to prevent unauthorized copying of digital media. You know, piracy. And maybe you think piracy deprives authors of revenue, and consequently, their rightful earnings.

Wrong. Completely, utterly, wrong.

There, I’ve said it. And I’m CEO of Publica, a new distribution channel dedicated to maximizing authors’ fame and fortunes.

Take a breath because this will take a minute to explain.

Copyrights protect publishers from each other’s worst behaviors. They’re not meant to protect authors from their readers, or deprive readers of their own rights.

If you, dear reader, make a business of selling books protected by copyright, a rights-holder can sue you. You know it, because you crossed the line from reader to seller, and you don’t need a digital lock to remind you. A EULA won’t matter because copyright laws are already in context with other laws and due process.

If you help someone else do it, you’re an accomplice. So don’t buy a book, decrypt or photocopy it, and publish it to the world in a freely-distributed format like PDF. Somebody might start a PDF-selling business, and you helped them. Unless the rights-holder says OK. Then, Go for it!

Rights-holding authors and publishers give away free books when and where they want to. When you like a book, tell your friends about it. Send them a link or broadcast it to the world. Even if an ebook is free, they may want to know more about who wrote it, and get the latest edition, don’t you think?

Free ebooks don’t waive their copyright, even if rights-holders encourage you to copy and spread them far and wide. Copyright applies to a business making money from someone else’s copyright without permission. That’s not you, is it?

If a theme park opened an attraction resembling a popular book without the rights-holder’s permission, that would be wrong and everybody knows it and a theme park would never do it.

It’s pretty simple, really.

So how should the world protect rights-holders from piracy? You’ll have to define piracy first. I think I just did, but I encourage you to improve on it. I’m all ears.

What about readers’ rights? They paid for an ebook, or received it in exchange for letting the author or publisher know they care.

Many authors encourage their readers to share their work freely, far and wide. After all, obscurity is an author’s real obstacle.

There’s no copyright issue if they do it with the rights-holder’s blessing. Get it? Copyright — rights-holder — blessing — Go for it!!!

Digital Locks versus Publica’s Blockchain Book Tokens (finally!)

DRM treats readers as assumed criminals-to-be. BUY NOW, then click to accept EULA (longer than the book sometimes), and all the reader’s rights are gone forever.

There, I’ve said it again — It’s the reader’s rights that DRM/EULA attacks. The author was already protected. That’s why DRM/EULA asks the reader to agree to this attack. Without that click, a court would simply protect the reader’s rights.

DRM/EULA completely circumvents copyrights, particularly Fair Use Doctrine and Exhaustion Rules. Moreover, the hapless buyer can’t do any of these things that I would reasonably expect when I send my money, i.e., BUY NOW:

Let my beloved wife read some of this fantastic ebook I bought because I know she’s gonna love it. On her own phone because she’s not gonna read it on mine. If she likes it, she’ll buy a paper copy because she doesn’t like the ebook reading experience on her tiny iPhone. (I’d send it from my big Android phablet because book tokens are cross-platform.) And she might buy the audiobook for her mother, i.e., my own mother-in-law who I love dearly.

Buy my niece a forestry ebook for her birthday. No, I’m not gonna read it first. And what if I do flip through it? Maybe I’ll find out that I like forestry and buy — nah, probably not. Farewell, dear forestry writer, we may never meet again. Unless, my niece really likes your book and lends it back to me!

Buy e-textbooks for students so they don’t have to carry a dozen paper books around. I’d rather not give them my credit card number.

Let them sell their e-textbooks when they finish the class. They all know a student who needs it.

Let the rights-holder earn a percentage of all those resales. Consider the student’s cut a sales commission. They need to learn that someday too.

Buy 10,000 ebooks at wholesale because I’m the rights-holder’s wholesaler where I’m going.

Buy ebooks to donate to my town’s public library. Seriously, I wanna do that.

Trade my pristine ebook for a worn-out paperback copy because I’m going to the beach. I live near a beach.

What do YOU think BUY NOW means? I’m all ears.

Publica’s blockchain book tokens can do everything in this off-the-top-of-my-head listing of what I thought BUY NOW meant. Completely in line with copyrights.

(The Berne Convention, I know, before digital media was even a word. 1886, when horses were self-driving cars and Robert Louis Stevenson’s smash hit, Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, sold well over 2,500 copies in London before American publishers sold 250,000 copies and didn’t pay up because his London publisher wasn’t honoring their rights either. Did Stevenson or his adoring fans need a copyright law? Nope. Publishers needed copyright law to protect them from each other. I think the Berne Convention is still with us only because we’ll need another one to update it. Or we just leave it alone because it still works on who it was written for, i.e., booksellers.)

Dear authors, you don’t have to treat your readers as the enemy. They want you to succeed. Your rights remain your rights.

Blockchain book tokens offer you the best of both worlds, IMHO. Sell them when you want to. Give them away when you want to. Read the blockchain when you want to know when your books move and why.

Dear publishers, tokens are 64-byte strings, much better for bulk title exchanges than big ebook files. Let the ebooks remain where they are, just sell or give or trade the tokens that authorize access to your ebooks. Very computer-friendly, very contract-friendly.

Dear accountants, blockchains reach around the globe. Read the blockchain (it’s not difficult) to learn how often a book’s tokens are sold or traded, not copied, and in which tax-year where your client claims tax-residency. Blockchains prevent double-spending, that’s why they were invented.

Dear publishers’ IT sysadmins, look up “Byzantine Generals’ problem.” Blockchains solve that better than SQL. Publica uses the same ONIX metadata schema that you do.

I have a LOT more to say about Publica’s blockchain book tokens, and probably nothing more to say about digital locks. So I refer you to better writers who taught me the most about the evil and the futility of digital locks.

Cory Doctorow, Information Doesn’t Want To Be Free.
The End Of Ownership, by Aaron Perzanowski and Jason Schultz.

Dear pirates and plagiarists, you don’t want to start with Publica’s blockchain for books. An immutable ledger of every single book token’s transaction history — that’s a thief’s worst nightmare. [And I’ve put some of you in jail before. Just sayin’.]

The story of copyright and EULA in a nutshell:

My article is not protected by this copyright logo. Make all the money you can with it, I really don’t mind.
My article is free to copy and mash under a Creative Commons license. Go for it.
EULA’s were invented for personal computer software. Nothing to do with books, and there weren’t any ebooks anyway. At the time, lawyers had trouble deciding what copying means to a computer because that’s pretty much what computers do all day. EULA’s were just a Hail Mary where copyrights don’t apply. Copyrights do apply to books, for example instruction books that come with software. This image is funny because anti-virus software can’t protect itself? And its maker hopes that if you click, their life gets better somehow?
The PC that opened this ebook probably no longer exists. This EULA remains in effect beyond anyone’s lifetime. That’s a bit of irony considering this book’s title, don’t you think? TriAngel Publishing is the authors’ company. Their copyright has been in effect since 2009 and will be long after they’re dead. Why did the readers have to sign away their rights?

Wanna see this story in its comic-book version?

Click here or

[Hey Cory! 2004, you brought a Mac to Microsoft. My 2002 paper book, signed for on fax paper by Sony executives, said the same thing you said. Sony and Microsoft were arguing then about InterTrust DRM patents. Still kickin’.]



Josef Marc

Blockchain evolution fan. Digital media nerd.