Why none of my books are available on Audible
I love audiobooks. When I was a high-school-aged page at a public library in the 1980s, I would pass endless hours shelving and repairing books while listening to “books on tape” from the library’s collection. By the time iTunes came along, I’d amassed a huge collection of cassette and CD audiobooks and I painstakingly ripped them to my collection.
Then came Audible, and I was in heaven — all the audiobooks, none of the hassle of ripping CDs. There was only one problem: the Digital Rights Management (DRM). You see, I’ve spent most of my adult life campaigning against DRM, because I think it’s an existential danger to all computer users — and because it’s a way for tech companies to hijack the relationship between creators and their audiences.
In 2011, I gave a speech at Berlin’s Chaos Communications Congress called “The Coming War on General Purpose Computing.” In it, I explained that Digital Rights Management was technologically incoherent, a bizarre fantasy in which untrusted users of computers could be given encrypted files and all the tools needed to decrypt them, but somehow be prevented from using those decrypted files in ways that conflicted with the preferences of the company that supplied those files.
As I said then, computers are stubbornly, inescapably “general purpose.” The only computer we know how to make — the Turing-complete von Neumann machine — is the computer that can run all the programs we know how to write. When someone claims to have built a computer-powered “appliance” — say, a smart speaker or (God help us all) a smart toaster — that can only run certain programs, what they mean is that they’ve designed a computer that can run every program, but which will refuse to run programs unless the manufacturer approves them.
But this is also technological nonsense. The program that checks to see whether other programs are approved by the manufacturer is also running on an untrusted adversary’s computer (with DRM, you are the manufacturer’s untrusted adversary). Because that overseer program is running on a computer you own, you can replace it, alter it, or subvert it, allowing you to run programs that the manufacturer doesn’t like. That would include (for example) a…