B&N Wraps Public Domain Books In DRM To Protect Authors' Copyrights. What?

The ebook “war” is a race to the bottom, apparently, with Barnes & Noble trying to out-do Amazon on DRM stupidity. A reader emailed B&N customer service to point out that their “free books” offer consists of 5 public domain titles that are no longer protected under copyright, yet are still locked down with digital rights management (DRM). Their response? “For copyright protection purposes, these files are encrypted and cannot be converted or printed.”

Here’s Terin’s email to them:

I am appalled at the way your company is pushing the B&N eReader application. You recently sent out an email to your mailing list about it “Free B&N eReader — Plus 6 eBooks on Us!”.

I took a look at your eReader, the offer of 6 eBooks was something I could take you up on, there are a few books I would want to read. But, it seems, I couldn’t pick the eBooks I wanted to read, they are picked for me. That’s fine, except the books that you choose The Last of the Mohicans, Sense and Sensibility, Little Women, Dracula and Pride and Prejudice, aren’t really “on Us!” – those five books are in the Public Domain.

Those five Public Domain books are encrypted “to protect the authors’ work”, and my rights to print the works have been infringed on.

We think that’s a pretty good question: why are public domain works being locked down tighter than a Stephen King ebook when it comes to DRM?

Barnes & Noble has no intention of answering anything rationally, however. Their response:

We selected public domain titles as our free eBooks because these books are traditionally among our customers’ favorite works of literature.

As an alternative, we also offer free samples of every commercial title available on our website so that you can discover for yourself how easy it is to read our eBooks on your iPhone, Blackberry or personal computer.

We offer these selections so that anyone interested in trying eBooks can do so in seconds, without having to purchase anything.

Unfortunately, eBooks purchased directly from Fictionwise or eReader cannot be merged into your Barnes & Noble eBooks Library.

Also, for copyright protection purposes, these files are encrypted and cannot be converted or printed.

Wait, so… what? Are all files being protected for copyright reasons? Because as Terin pointed out, the books they’re “giving away” are in the public domain.

(Photo: Dori)