Technology providers, publishers, and device makers are collaborating to develop standards and copy protection mechanisms to avoid the pitfalls that have tripped up other trailblazers in digital content. Issues that need to be standardized include content platforms, file formats, and systems for copy protection, and the secure exchange of content.

Government officials and industry executives are advising the eBook industry to act swiftly to avoid the same types of problems that have plagued the music and video industries—piracy of MP3 audio and disabling the content scrambling protection for DVDs.

To be profitable the eBook industry must protect their most valuable asset, the content, by focusing on digital rights management and copy protection. Early eBooks were protected from piracy by requirements for specialized electronic devices made available through exclusive deals between the device manufacturer and the book publisher.

Today, eBook content can be read on any Windows PC using standardized software such as Acrobat Reader, from Adobe Systems Inc., or Microsoft’s Microsoft Reader software. eBooks can also be read with products such as:

■ A Palm PDA running Peanut Press reader software from Peanut Press Inc.
■ Aportis Doc software from Aportis Technologies
■ TealDoc from TealPoint Software.

eBooks support on Windows CE or Pocket PC devices is provided via Microsoft Reader or the Peanut Press reader. Support for specialty eBook hardware such as Gemstar’s Nuvomedia or Softbook’s eBook platform is available via reader software based on the Open eBook (OEB) File Format.

Consumers expect that when they purchase eBook content they can view it on any of the devices currently available. This is not always possible because of the use of different platforms and file formats. If the read anywhere eBook is to become a reality then standards must be established for content and file formats, digital rights management, distribution, and book product information.

The recently released publication structure and file format standards from the OEB Forum are still in development and only address electronic content. Standards on device classes and how content is displayed remain unresolved. Portability must be addressed in the next 18 to 24 months if the industry hopes to see convergence devices accommodate the eBook technology with telephony, other PDA content, and DVD storage.

The lack of a standard file format is a major barrier to market growth. Publishers converting printed texts undergo time-consuming and costly processes to accommodating divergent file formats for existing reader systems. Microsoft and Adobe are locked in a battle for platform dominance. Until standards are established publishers need to support all eBook platforms.

Adobe’s Portable Document Format (PDF) is the market leader for existing digital content. But PDF’s conventionalsized page display is not optimized for small screens. eBook readers that support the OEB File Format, such as Microsoft Reader, the Peanut Press reader, Aportis Doc, and TealDoc are growing in popularity. However, translating files from Adobe Systems’ PDF to the OEB file format is a significant task for publishers.

The largest obstacle to a dramatic increase of eBook titles is that publishers are reluctant to release additional titles until there is a standard and secure method for exchanging and protecting eBook content. One industry effort that is working towards a standard for secure content exchange is the Electronic Book Exchange System (EBX). Spearheaded by Glassbook Inc. and the EBX Working

Group the EBX system currently under development would secure content transfers via public/ private key encryption. The industry is also considering other technologies for content exchange and digital rights management (DRM). Extensible Rights Markup Language (XrML), a secure and royalty-free language developed by Xerox Corp. and ContentGuard Inc., is under consideration as a standard for all DRM systems.

Time is running out for the eBook industry to stay a step ahead of the piracy problem. Some eBook titles have already been pirated. Several illegal postings of the latest in the Harry Potter series appeared for download shortly after the volume’s print release. In addition, some users are suspected of having downloaded copies of King’s Ride the Bullet without payment.

Making digital content widely available to consumers will help control piracy if publishers move quickly to provide digital content through a variety of channels. Consumers must be educated that selling, obtaining, or using unlicensed electronic content it is a criminal offense.

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