Posted on November 20, 2013 in Archive

This guy beat Amazon’s DRM system


As an experiment, Peter Purgathofer decided to see if he could bypass the digital rights management system set up by Amazon and Kindle, using Lego. And wouldn’t you know it, he managed to do it.

Pergathofer is an associate professor at the Vienna University of Technology, and will be getting thumbs up from me for ‘Coolest Use of Legos This Year’. Thankfully it wasn’t using the traditional blocks you normally see used by small children to make up a castle – or that would be slightly embarrassing for those of us who still struggle to take a photograph with their camera phones. No, this was accomplished using Lego Mindstorms, a basic robotic kit commonly used by hobbyists. The result of this “provocative thought experiment”, according to his Vimeo page, is a free copy of an ebook that eludes all DRM software set up by Amazon.

The other tools involved in this experiment include a Mac computer and of course, a Kindle ereader. By correctly positioning all of the above tools, Pergathofer has created a scanning machine. The Mindstorm hits the ‘next page’ button on the Kindle and then hits the space bar on the Mac, causing the iSight camera to take a picture of the text on the Kindle. This photograph is then submitted to an unidentified cloud-based text-recognition program that reads the text on the photograph, and recreates the page in a standard plain text format. This process is repeated until the ebook is finished. All of the text from the ebook is easily replicated without any pesky DRM’s stopping you from sharing the book with your friends once it has been converted into an ebook format.



Pergathofer clearly isn’t a pirate, though. He only performed this feat on one book, and hasn’t done it since. He hasn’t distributed anything illegally and has no intention of doing so. If anything, he’s making a statement about the loss of rights as a bookowner. In an email conversation with Arik Hesseldahl, he declared it a “dramatic loss of rights for the book owner. The owner isn’t even an owner anymore but rather a licensee of the book.”

The fact that this DRM system is so frustrating to some people that they can come up with such an ingenious way of getting around it should probably be something of a wakeup call to Amazon. While the strictness of the DRM is something that initially helped them to stay ahead of the ebook rat race, competitors and brainiacs like Pergathofer have the potential to hurt Amazon badly.