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April 8th, 2009

5:53 PM

Now here's a novel way to battle ebook piracy

Wizards of the Coast decided to halt all sales of PDF formats altogether. Says one of their staff on a message board, "Hey all. I wanted to step in and add shine a mote of light on the subject. First off, this cesation of PDF sales has absolutely nothing to do with the Internet Sales Policy. I know it's the 6th of April and I can definitely see how the two would appear linked, but the truth is, this is a completely seperate matter.

"Unfortunately, the truth is that due to recent findings of illegal copying and online distribution (piracy) of our products, Wizards of the Coast has decided to cease the sales of online PDFs. We are exploring other options for digitial distribution of our content and as soon as we have any more information I'll get it to you."

That's great, except that the PDFs sold are mostly out-of-print game guides of previous editions. If you are not aware, WoTC is the current owner of the popular Dungeons & Dragons tabletop and role-playing game, among other things, and D&D have at the time of writing four editions. That means books on the previous three editions are out of print. Many gamers prefer to play an edition of their choice (each edition has a different set of rules and such) and therefore, for many of them, legal digital PDF files from places like RPG Now, RPG Drivethrough, and Paizo are a way to get the out-of-print books without coughing up expensive amounts of dough on eBay.

And now WoTC decides to ban all PDF sales altogether as they "explore other options"? Hmm.

I'm confused. Are they trying to cut down piracy or are they cutting off completely all legal options available and forcing people to resort to piracy to get those out of print books?

Piracy is especially rampant when it comes to gaming because those books are not cheap. I am not involved in the scene, but my second son is, and I have seen players buying a player's handbook and then photocopying it so that five or six people can have access to the rules in order to play. And these are adults. I can only imagine college students resorting to getting pirated versions of these books from their favorite P2P portals because the cost of these books is, frankly, high.

I can't help thinking that perhaps a better way to combat piracy in this particular genre is to issue cost-effective, affordable versions of those handbooks and what not. Perhaps a paperback version, with either black-and-white images or even no images, just bare crunch and fluff? That way, people can choose between purchasing the "collector's item" style expensive hardcover with its gorgeous (if merely ornamental) illustrations or the "economy edition" with just crunch and fluff without the expensive pretty. Of course, this doesn't mean piracy will automatically disappear, but this method will also allow people an alternative to piracy.

PS: If you want to comment to say, "If you can't afford it, you don't deserve to own it!", can you please not do so? Such argument serves no purpose other than to accuse people of being criminals and such, and in turn causes other people to show up to defend the practice, and the whole thing turns into another e-peen competition on who gets the last word. When it comes to issues like piracy, I personally believe that if we are to have a reasonable discussion about it, we should talk about solutions rather than accuse people who participate in it as villains, criminals, perverts, deviants, or whatever.

2 comment(s).

Posted by Nonny:

*snort*

It won't do much good. The PDFs are already out there. Ask the RIAA how much luck they've had shutting down overseas Torrent hosts like Demonoid. (Answer: None. The best they can do is go after individual users with lawsuits.)

My husband wants print copies of the gaming books, but they are definitely ridiculously expensive. When you consider there are supplemental books in addition to the original player's handbook... yeah.

The other thing is, at least last I knew, WotC PDFs have no DRM. Not that DRM can't be cracked, but it makes for more illegal availability.

What WotC really needs to do is lower their price point, because I can pretty well guarantee even with doing away with PDFs, people will continue to pirate. They've really set themselves up for it, too, because most gamers I know would much prefer to have the hardcopy, but can't afford to dump several hundred dollars on gaming books.
April 9th, 2009 @ 2:45 AM

Posted by Mrs G:

The PDFs from Paizo have DRM though. I don't game but I like reading fluff so I've bought some 2nd, 3rd, and 3.5th Ed PDFs from Paizo. These PDFs are registered and watermarked under my name and email address. I'm told this DRM can be easily cracked, but Paizo does try.

WoTC's own Dragon/Dungeon magazines, on the other hand, are not protected by DRM. I'm no fan of DRM, but I'm amused that WoTC is shutting down places that take the trouble to put DRM on WoTC's PDFs in the name of "protection" when they themselves don't practice the same thing!
April 9th, 2009 @ 7:44 AM