Yes, there are DRM-free ebooks on the Kindle Store

When the Kindle first came out, everything Amazon sold had digital rights management, or DRM, to prevent unauthorized copying. This DRM is also how publishers restrict how many simultaneous devices can display the book, and whether or not text-to-speech is enabled.

But about a year ago, Amazon started giving independent publishers the option to skip the DRM when uploading titles through their DTP system for the Kindle Store. What this means in plain English is that you can now find DRM-free titles for sale on the Kindle Store, although you’re most likely to find them among indie titles.

How to tell if a Kindle title has DRM

There’s no DRM field in the product listing, but it turns out there’s an easy way to tell: just check under product details whether the title has device usage set to unlimited. If so, there’s no DRM.

Should you care?

If you just use a Kindle or Kindle software and trust Amazon, this DRM issue doesn’t really matter. If you’re one of those consumers who uses multiple devices, or who switches from one type of device to another, or if you like to have multiple formats of every ebook in your library (by creating new formats using Calibre, for example), then you’ll find non-DRM’ed titles easier to work with.

Is converting a DRM-free Kindle title against your license agreement with Amazon?

Probably, but I’m not sure. Here’s the actual language from the license agreement as of July 2010:

“[Amazon] grants you a non-exclusive right to view, use, and display such Digital Content an unlimited number of times, solely on the Kindle or a Reading Application or as otherwise permitted as part of the Service, solely on the number of Kindles or Other Devices specified in the Kindle Store, and solely for your personal, non-commercial use.”

The phrase “or as otherwise permitted” sounds promising, but the actual product page of a DRM-free Kindle title only mentions reading platforms in two places: up near the top under a drop-down list of what platforms the title is available for, and under product details in the “Simultaneous Device Usage” category. I’d like to imagine that since the drop-down list says what’s available and not what’s permitted exclusively, especially when the other category is set to unlimited, then that leaves room for personal format shifting. I’m not a lawyer, though, and I’m not at all confident that a judge would agree with my reasoning, so don’t point any fingers at me if you regret any Kindle file conversions.

(Photo: Ashley R. Good)

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