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So I have a website I would like to make that would essentially be selling files. For the sake of discussion let's say that these files are like the raw text of a book. If somebody buys a file from my site, there really isn't anything preventing them from sharing that unlimited amounts of times with their neighbor or whatever.

I know that the music industry has suffered from this type of thing for years, so there may not be an easy solution, but what could I do to try and limit the use of that text file to just one person?

Is there any type of encryption or password verification that would help me solve this problem? Or do I just have to cope with the fact that it's 2010 and nobody will pay for anything they can find for free on the web?

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migrated from stackoverflow.com Jun 10 '11 at 9:34

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I will send my answer once you deposit $10 on my account, but you must not share this answer with anyone. –  blubb Jun 10 '11 at 9:39
    
Couple of links on topic - one by a game developer and another by books publisher –  Roman Grazhdan Jun 10 '11 at 10:17

4 Answers 4

up vote 10 down vote accepted

The music industry is a perfect example. Instead of embracing reality, they tried to fight it by imposing restrictions on their end users. The restrictions got so bad that many of their end users said something rude and started looking for pirate alternatives.

You can't stop people pirating stuff.

However, if you make it good value for money, then you can still make something out of your work while some people are pirating it. And if you add some basic protection, you can stop most "ordinary" users from pirating, even though you'll never stop the experts.

Try to think of ways that make it easier for people to pay for a genuine copy - e.g. easier/quicker payment methods.

Try to keep adding new content that keeps people coming back for more - a small group of returning customers may work out better than a large group of once-off purchases. Maybe a subscription model might work better to get people to revisit your site.

You could embed license information in the document - seeing your own email address at the top of a document is a good incentive not to pass it on to other people.

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I think this should be a superuser question, and the answer is there go for it

http://superuser.com/questions/14224/how-to-explain-drm-cannot-work

it's a little sad, but true

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There is no way to let the users at the content and not let them at the content at the same time -- once they have it, they can copy it. You can make it annoying by forcing them to use specific devices or software to access the content (like DRM solutions do), but even if it's encrypted, the software/hardware needs both the encrypted content and the key to decrypt it, and once the user has them, he can build his own software/hardware. In the worst case you can make screenshots of displayed text and OCR that with very good results, and that can be automated.

But not all is lost. If instead of re-selling old texts you are providing your users with a steady flow of new and up-to-date content (or, instead, you provide marvelous searching and indexing), they will subscribe for your service to get that. Even if the files end up in file-sharing networks later, your users will pay for the new ones. And if someone gets smart and starts to regularly mirror your files -- you take a legal action. At least that's the theory, because the Internet is larger than any jurisdiction...

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That's usually referred to as the Analog Hole. –  Philip Jun 10 '11 at 14:28

You can relatively easily include customer-specific watermarks in the files, so when the file lands on a bulletin board, you know which user to sue. Teach your users about that and it will keep at least some of them from distributing your content.

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