Apple disses our DRM for iPad, Adobe says

Adobe says Flash-enabled e-books still possible on iPad, however

Apple Inc. will not use Adobe Systems Inc.'s e-book digital rights management (DRM) technology, an Adobe executive said on Wednesday.

The confirmation added credibility to reports that Apple Inc. will offer its own FairPlay DRM technology to publishers to copy protect e-books sold for use on its upcoming iPad tablet computer.

"Apple has not licensed Adobe Content Server for their iBookstore," Nick Bogaty, senior business development manager at Adobe, told Computerworld. "They appear to be doing something else."

That will be FairPlay, the technology Apple used until 2009 to protect songs sold through iTunes (it still uses FairPlay to protect TV shows and movies), a source who declined to be named said.

Apple still plans to use the industry-standard ePub text format for the e-books themselves. The format is used for all of Adobe's publishing software — from the InDesign layout app to the Content Server management tool — along with virtually all other manufacturers of e-book readers, with the notable exception of Amazon.com Inc. and its market-leading Kindle.

But Apple's plan to use FairPlay instead of Adobe's flavor of copy protection will lock customers in to Apple's ecosystem, says Bogaty, as iPad owners will only be able to buy from Apple's iBookstore, and will not be able to transfer their purchases to other devices.

"With iBooks, there's no freedom of choice," he said.

While Adobe's flavor of DRM isn't an official standard, it's widespread enough, argues Bogaty, that consumers will "be able to use any e-reader they want, and purchase from any point of sale that uses Content Server."

Whether Apple's controlling approach will make a difference to a majority of consumers remains to be seen. Apple's App Store for the iPhone has been a huge hit with consumers and developers alike, despite protests and people "jailbreaking" iPhones to work around Apple's ironfisted control of the device.

"To steal a phrase, Apple wants to create a clean, well-lit, highly controlled marketplace," said Mike McGuire, an analyst at Gartner Inc. With iTunes, "FairPlay didn't seem to get in the way."

Opponents of copy protection for e-books decry Apple's use of digital locks. "[FairPlay] is another in a varied number of DRM schemes that will ultimately confuse the consumer and harm e-book adoption," said Paul Biba, editor of the e-book blog TeleRead.

Fireworks over Flash

Apple's other clash with Adobe is over Flash. Citing performance and security issues, Apple blocks the Safari Web browser for the iPhone and iPad from using any plug-ins but Apple's own Quicktime and Preview (for PDFs). That keeps out Flash, Windows Media Player, RealPlayer and Adobe Acrobat Reader.

That's despite claims by Adobe that 7 million people hit its Web site in December alone looking to download a Flash player for their iPhone.

Bogaty says that while e-books that contain interactive elements such as Flash videos might not play fully on the iPad, they should still be able to sell via the iBooks app. Readers will see a static screenshot of the video, he said, while the text will be unaffected.

Determined publishers will soon be able add Flash video support to their e-books. They would use the Packager for iPhone feature in Adobe's Flash Professional CS5 software, which is scheduled to ship later this year.

Using that technology, Adobe has already helped The New York Times and Wired magazine create interactive publications using Flash.

Those Flash-enabled publications would be sold through the App Store and installed directly onto users' iPads or iPhones, rather than managed via Apple's iBook library.

The advantage is that it will let the Times and Wired directly track what customers are reading. Such usage data is key for newspapers and magazines, who can use it to more effectively demonstrate to advertisers the value of the space for sale in their publications.

Such data would be harder to get if they were sold via the iBooks app's digital newsstand, something those publishers already fear, the Financial Times reported earlier this week.

Obtaining customer data is less important to book publishers, says Bogaty. And while interactive books are a long-term trend, he says it's "limited to a little experimentation today."

For that reason, Adobe isn't working with any publishers to build Flash-enabled e-books similar to the Times or Wired apps, he said.

Eric Lai covers Windows and Linux, desktop applications, databases and business intelligence for Computerworld. Follow Eric on Twitter at @ericylai or subscribe to Eric's RSS feed . His e-mail address is elai@computerworld.com.

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