Readium LCP Set to Launch

The 2017 EPUB Summit in Brussels this past week was the venue for the beta launch and first live demos of the Readium LCP DRM technology for EPUB-formatted e-books.  I’ve discussed aspects of the genesis and design of Readium LCP elsewhere: here is a summary that I presented at last year’s EPUB Summit in Bordeaux.  Readium LCP is designed to integrate with the Readium open source code library for EPUB reading systems, although Readium can integrate with other DRMs, and in fact there are Readium implementations that support multiple DRMs at the same time.

Readium LCP started, to a large extent, with a conversation that I had in 2012 with Bill McCoy, then Executive Director of IDPF, the standards body that oversaw the EPUB format (now part of W3C).  He was concerned with various aspects of Adobe ACS, the de facto standard DRM (outside of the Apple and Amazon ecosystems), including Adobe’s lack of commitment to supporting the new version of EPUB (EPUB 3), and he wanted to motivate alternatives.

Here is an early snapshot of the project.  I was involved in various aspects of it, including the licensing, compliance, and robustness frameworks as well as the initial requirements.  Five years later, some of the design principles and goals have changed, but the basic idea of providing a simple, low-cost, and vendor-neutral DRM for EPUB has remained.

Readium LCP has blossomed into a vibrant, cooperative, open-source development effort involving several companies.  Among others: De Marque of Canada built server software; TEA and Mantano of France developed e-reading clients; and Feedbooks (France) and DRM Inside (South Korea) contributed key design elements.  DRM Inside also built its own server and client implementations, and ePagine of Netherlands/Belgium/France contributed on the server side.  (Please complain to me if I left you out.)

The code (C++ on the client side; Go on the server side) is available in Github repositories and is almost entirely BSD-licensed open source.  Anyone can implement Readium LCP, although it’s necessary to do a few things to participate in the Readium LCP interoperable ecosystem: sign a license agreement, pass a compliance test, and (on the client side) agree to harden your code to make it resistant to reverse engineering and key discovery.  Licensees get access to the small library of hardened binary code and the digital certificates that provide security and are necessary to integrate with other components.

The ecosystem is set up so that any licensed e-reader should be able to read e-books from any licensed server. In fact, such interoperability was demonstrated yesterday in Brussels, as DRM Inside’s implementations were shown to be interoperable with those of De Marque, TEA, and Mantano.

The non-profit, Paris-based European Digital Reading Lab (EDRLab), which was established in 2015, administers the licensing and compliance testing.  It will charge a modest initial license fee and flat annual fees that depend only on organization size and not on transaction volume or size of catalog.  The only dependence on any commercial vendors is that the digital certificates are supplied by a division of Deutsche Telekom.

At the EPUB Summit, it became clear that the biggest initial “bowling pin” (niche market) for Readium LCP is library e-book lending.  The library community likes the lack of transaction costs for Readium LCP, the lack of dependence on a single DRM vendor, and growing community of companies building software and services around the technology.

(The French library community particularly likes a feature of Readium LCP that makes it  desirable in France: public libraries limit the number of lending transactions that a user can make at a given time.  When you “borrow” an e-book, you can ask to extend the lending period; the library may grant the extension if there is no waiting list for the title.  If the library uses the Adobe DRM, the extension counts as another lending transaction that counts towards the user’s limit, but with Readium LCP, it doesn’t.)

The library lending demo in Brussels was a cooperative one among many entities: several publishers (Dutch and French) contributed e-book titles; the e-book distributor Eden Livres housed the e-books and their metadata; Dilicom, a French library/publisher joint venture, served as a pipeline of e-book data to library e-lending platforms; and ePagine provided an e-lending platform for the demo.  Lirtuel, an e-lending system for Francophone Belgium, will use the platform to serve its based of 100,000 users (the name is a clever portmanteau word for “Lire,” to read, and “Virtuel”). Dilicom also showed a mockup of an e-lending system for the Paris area public library system PNB (Prêt Numérique en Bibliothèque), which may launch a Readium LCP-based e-lending system soon.

Participants in the Brussels conference said that Readium LCP is the first and only DRM technology whose designers solicited input specifically from the library community.  While Readium LCP may have some success with retail e-book services as well, library e-lending looks like a strong initial market for this newly hatched DRM technology.  Despite doubts that some publishers and distributors have about DRM for retail e-books, DRM for library e-book lending is here to stay for the foreseeable future.

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