Stephen King eBook Spurs Better Piracy Safeguards

FRAMINGHAM (03/31/2000) - Now that pirated versions of the popular 66-page electronic novella by Stephen King, "Riding the Bullet," have surfaced, the e-book's distributor, Glassbook Inc., will release a more secure version of its electronic-book reader.

Glassbook President Len Kawall told Computerworld that the updated version will be available next week, equipped with security features that should have been present for the King book release. But in the hurry to get the book out to market, a less robust reader was used.

As a result, Kawall said, someone "chiseled in" to the content of the book after downloading and opening it in the reader. He added that encryption technology used to transmit the book securely on the Internet was not compromised.

However, the version of the book reader used with King's novella was vulnerable from the start, and both Glassbook and "Riding the Bullet" publisher Simon & Schuster knew it. Kawall said that Glassbook wanted to distribute the book with a reader that had 64-bit encryption, but couldn't make the publisher's deadline with the updated reader.

In addition, the specification used to secure the book in transmission hasn't yet been formalized by the standards group behind it, the Book Industry Study Group (BISG). The Electronic Book Exchange (EBX) specification hasn't been presented in a finished draft, nor has it been presented in any manner for industry review, according BISG spokesperson Sandra Paul.

The BISG was formally announced on March 28, two weeks after the King book was released.

Kawall added that "Simon & Schuster absolutely understands" how a security breach could occur and that the industry "has learned to live with piracy." He cited the 400,000 to 500,000 legitimate copies of the book in distribution compared to what he estimates to be "a few" pirated copies.

Added Kawall, "It is not the end of e-books. Our job is to make it more pleasurable to purchase the product from a legitimate source."

Meantime, Glassbook has announced the new reader and posted on its Web site "aggressive steps" it plans to take "to stem e-book privacy." The steps outlined include forming a full-time antipiracy support team that will search the Internet for pirated material, work with the publisher to remove illegally published material, and cooperate with the FBI and international authorities to monitor, track and report suspected digital piracy and copyright infringement.

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