Digital Rights Management 101

As many of you are aware, Lulu recently started offering Digital Rights Management (DRM) for eBooks. We did this because many of our users requested it and because we want to offer our authors the tools they need. Whether you choose to use those tools is completely up to you. That said, DRM is a complicated subject, so I wanted to try to lay out some of the reasons you might choose to use DRM and why you might not. This will enable you to make an informed decision about what option is best for you and whether you want to invest in the tool.

What is DRM?

To begin with, I wanted to give a quick overview of Digital Rights Management. Googling the term pulls up a plethora of information and I highly suggest you poke around and research the topic further. In its simplest form, DRM is a technology tool that restricts access to digital content. It is typically used by the content provider to prevent unauthorized access to their work.

There is some controversy surrounding the use of DRM because of its use by some companies to restrict the use of content beyond what is covered by existing laws and can be (in some cases) used for anti-competitive purposes. Lulu does not in any way support these practices. Rather, we believe that DRM can be useful for authors who want to control the use of their content. We also believe that authors should be able to make the decision whether or not to use DRM for themselves.

Why You Might Want DRM

As previously mentioned, DRM can be beneficial to an author trying to protect their work from unauthorized distribution. Using DRM, you can control how many times an eBook can be downloaded for a single purchase, and the number of devices (computers, eBook readers, etc.) to which the eBook can be transferred.

If you’re an author who is trying to generate revenue off of eBook sales and you want added protection against your customers freely sharing your content, then you may want to consider investing in DRM.

Why You Might Not Want DRM

In an essay about the digital distribution of books, publisher Tim O’Reilly said, “Obscurity is a far greater threat to authors and creative artists than piracy.” If you are more concerned with people reading your material, and you want to encourage people to share your work, then you may not want to use DRM.

There is no one answer for everyone and I encourage everyone to research the topic. Think about your work and what you want to accomplish before deciding to add DRM to your eBook.

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  1. I’m no expert by any means. I’m just an indie author trying to scratch some recognition and sell a few copies, but in my humble opinion, DRM is pointless. It does not prevent piracy, it does not prevent copying. Computer literate school children can crack DRM code and if they can do it, a determined ‘pirate’ certainly can. In most cases, so I believe, DRM is simply a source of annoyance and frustration to those very creatures we wish to attract i.e. the plain everyday reader. The new Lulu e-book, to my mind, is bad news all round. It doesn’t seem worth my while to publish e-books or indeed anything on Lulu anymore. I might as well just give my stuff away, or give up writing. Have to re-think my strategy.



  2. Nick Popio

    I can certainly understand where you’re coming from, which is why DRM is an option. If an author wants to apply it, they can. If your don’t think it’s worth it, then we’re not going to try to convince you that you do. If you have any additional questions or concerns, I’m happy to discuss them with you.

  3. Christian Monsieur


    Lulu was the promise of something better. You have failed us all by endorsing DRM. This blog post is an embarrassment and you should be ashamed of taking Lulu down this path. Saying that this is the choice for authors is an endorsement for depriving the world of access to human knowledge and creative work. It was within the power of Lulu to take a stand for community and you capitiulated. What was the price?

    I remove my support for Lulu and encourage all FLOSS and Free Culture supporters how helped build Lulu to do likewise.


  4. Nick Popio

    Lulu is not saying that DRM is the choice for authors. Nor are we advocating DRM for all books or even most books. Rather, we believe that individual authors should be able to make the choice for themselves.

    I hope this helps clarify things, but as I said to LB, if you have any further questions or concerns, then I am happy to try to address them.

  5. Christian Monsieur


    Saying that Lulu DRM is not an endorsement of DRM is clearly a big lie from you and a big shame.

    I hope this helps clarify things…blah blah


  6. Nick Popio

    I think we may have to agree to disagree on this. We see a difference between requiring everyone to use DRM and allowing authors to choose whether they want to use DRM.

  7. Nick, I agree with you. There actually was a demand from some people for protection of the PDF ebooks. I believe the DRM *option* (note that it is an option) is a response to this. Providing the ability to impose DRM is not an endorsement, just an acknowledgement of some Lulu customers’ wishes.

    I’ve chosen to make my ebook open, though.