Monday, November 2, 2009

A Twitter/DRM Experiment

A Twitter user imposed strict rules for his followers. All of the rules reflected this person's particular preferences about how exactly his Twitter feed should be used. I'm not certain that this is any kind of valid test of anything, but his conclusions jibe with much of what DocMonk stands for. For instance:
Pushing anyone into a corner with no other alternatives will make that person see the odds as “I’ve got nothing to lose by fighting back.” Right now, the technical skills to break eBook copy-protection are not widespread. If you cage your customers, they’ll become “Nothing to lose” combatants and will seek out the tools to break your DRM. They might even turn spiteful and go pirate, uploading those files for others. Most users who crack DRM simply do it in order to be able to read on more than one device they have paid for. This is private-use “piracy” (in sensible minds, this is called Buyer’s Fair Use!). Don’t push them into becoming outright outlaws!
The rest is here.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Economist Magazine Embraces the Kindle as a Revenue Generator

It pays to pay attention to those who command premium prices. In the weekly news magazine market, The Economist is by far the leader in actually getting their customers to pay.

Charlie Rose had Economist editor John Micklethwait on recently and he talked about their strategy for the Kindle. (Note: this is my transcription - not official)

Micklethwait: The interesting one to me is the Kindle. If you want an example of the difference between us and other magazines. If you look at the Kindle, we charge $10 per month. Virtually every other magazine charges $2 or $3 per month. And the reason why we charge that is because we have worked out that that is what we need to make money from it. Remember that you can't carry advertising at all on the Kindle, and what worries me a bit from the perspective of the other magazines is that they are all looking at the Kindle as a little bit of incremental business. We're looking at it as something which we think long term, it or its descendants or a derivative of it would replace a chunk of the print magazine.

Charlie: It has to stand alone.

Micklethwait: Yeah and you have to look at it as something that could eventually cannibalize your product. But ultimately I think that's exciting. I'm mean look we have distribute The Economist all the way around this country and all the way around the world. The idea that people with electronic e-readers could actually be getting this almost immediately on a Thursday evening or Friday morning - that's a very exciting idea.
Time and Newsweek are struggling and changing their strategies. The Economist seems to be thriving. I think that The Economist's forward-thinking and confident perspective on the future of publishing is a big reason for this strength.

Video here. The discussion about e-readers starts at about 16:50.

Saturday, October 10, 2009 is a World Traveler

We quietly launched support for four languages this week:

We're working on more languages, and getting language support for the entire DocMonk website as well.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Do Heavy-Handed Copyright Laws Work?

It's our philosophy here at DocMonk that publishers who respect their readers will have their copyrights respected in return. The inverse is that publishers who employ heavy-handed DRM technologies in an effort to stop theft of their intellectual property risk instigating a copyright arms-race.

A copyright arms-race happens when publishers continuously try harder and harder to lock down their publications, and readers feel more and more justified in trying to break the locks. The readers always win these contests in the end. We at DocMonk document this phenomenon in our favorite tweets.

Lately, I've been thinking about our philosophy as it relates to copyright law. Nothing is more heavy-handed than our police and courts, so it seems that the same principles that we apply to DRM technologies might be applied to the law as well.

Is it possible that onerous copyright laws are actually encouraging copyright infringement?

The length of terms and severity of sanctions of copyright law have steadily increased over the years. The first US copyright law was passed in 1790 and granted a 14 year term for copyright, plus the opportunity to renew the copyright for another 14 years for one time only. Today, copyright holders have a term that extends to 70 years past the death of the creator, or up to 120 years for corporations. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 2000 included, for the first time, criminal penalties for certain forms of copyright infringement. Previous laws had only focused on civil penalties.

It's important to remember that the purpose of copyright, as stated by the US Constitution, is to "promote the Progress of Science and the useful Arts." The question is, are ever-longer copyright terms and increased penalties promoting or hindering this objective? Equally important, do these laws actually succeed in decreasing the losses suffered by copyright holders?

Copyright in the Real World
Google Books is a project that aspires to scan and index all of the books ever published. According to the New York Times, they have already scanned about 7 million books. However, an astounding 4 to 5 million of those books are "orphaned" This means that that the copyright is still in force, but the copyright holders (or more likely their heirs) cannot be located or are not willing to take steps to make the work available.

It's shocking that a majority of the books in the Google database are in this situation. You can't buy a copy, but you can't legally make a copy on your own either.

Now you may be able to see where I'm going with this. Cue movie trailer guy:

In a world where millions of books aren't available for sale, and can't be legally copied, how quickly will consumers learn to infringe routinely, even for first-run, brand new material?

In most cases, copying an orphaned work really is a victimless crime because the rights-holder just isn't interested. There may be rare cases where works of significant interest are orphaned because the heirs are unaware they they own the rights. Somewhere, there might be some snotty kid who isn't aware that great-granddad was Ernest Hemingway - but I don't think that happens very often.

Introducing the Slippery Slope
Once consumers get used to copying orphaned works, where does the infringement end? It's not a great leap to go from, "I'll just do it one time because there really is no other option" to "Why should I pay for the new Harry Potter book? I'll just download it. I learned how to do it that time when I needed that obscure book that was written in 1942."

The Case for Shorter Copyright Terms
Copyright law should only cover works that are worth protecting. Fourteen years (the original law) sounds about right. That way, content creators will be able to make a coherent case that copyright infringement really is theft, and not just a victimless crime. Meanwhile, millions of works that are currently orphaned would enter the public domain, to "promote the Progress of Science and the useful Arts."

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

What Gets Measured Gets Managed

A phone conversation with a new DocMonk client today reminded me of a quote by the business guru Peter Drucker:
What gets measured gets managed.
The client I was speaking with had just sent his weekly newsletter through DocMonk for the third time. We were discussing the download rates for the issues he's sent. Currently, only about 40% of the newsletters to paid subscribers are being downloaded. Downloading the issue is the only way to read it (DocMonk is the only form of fulfillment offered), so it's puzzling that so many people who had paid a lot of money to receive a newsletter aren't even reading it.

Then, we started thinking of ideas to increase the download-rate. Maybe he should send a mid-week reminder (this newsletter arrives on Monday morning). Maybe he needs to include a more-detailed summary of that week's content in the email body. Certainly, there are many other things to be tried!

This is what made me think Drucker's quote. Before he started using DocMonk, this client had not been measuring the percentage of his subscribers that were actually reading the newsletter. The reason for this is simple enough: it wasn't possible. Previously, he would email the PDF out to the subscribers as an attachment, and assume that they were reading it.

DocMonk provides detailed reports of exactly who is and who is not opening the documents that are sent. This gives publishers the opportunity to test strategies for improving the "read-rate" of their newsletters. I have no doubt that this client will be driving his download rate higher in the coming weeks. Ultimately, he will see all the benefits of higher readership including increased word of mouth, more responses to the content; and most importantly, more renewals.

Monday, September 21, 2009

How DocMonk Prevents Search Engines from Caching Your Premium Content

One way that DocMonk increases ease of use for document recipients is by eliminating the need for users to log in to the site. Users need only click on the link they receive from the publisher and they immediately get to download their personalized PDF document. The main way that DocMonk protects publishers' content is by keeping the URL a secret between the publisher and subscriber.

Of course, just having a secret URL isn't very good security. One risk is search engines, which may find the page and then index the content or allow others to find it. DocMonk prevents search engines from getting to publishers' valuable content by using a robots.txt file, which directs search engine crawlers to go away. However, a robots.txt direction is kind of like a "No Right Turn" sign; less civically minded members of the community might choose to ignore it. To put some teeth into our "no search engine" policy, we use CAPTCHAs to make sure every visitor is a living, breathing human being.

We've all seen CAPTCHAs. They are those distorted series of characters that you must type when a website is trying to prevent spam. DocMonk uses reCAPTCHA to verify that the entity trying to download a protected document is a human being. By ensuring that only humans get through to the document, DocMonk prevents search engines from indexing and caching the documents. Once DocMonk determines that a particular user is really human, subsequent attempts to download documents usually do not require completing a new CAPTCHA challenge.

CAPTCHAs are one way that DocMonk strikes a balance between security and usability.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

29 Ideas for PDF Documents to Personalize

Below are 29 ideas for PDF documents that you may want to personalize before sharing with others.

Personalizing a document is an example of Social DRM. It is perfect for situations where you don't want the information in the document to spread beyond its intended recipients, but you also don't want to insult or inconvenience people either.

You probably trust your friends, family, coworkers and customers; but not 100% and not all the time. For relationships like these, personalizing a PDF document is a great strategy for protecting your work because it is proportional to the threat. You don't need an expensive, heavy-handed and inconvenient DRM solution. You just need the ability to let your recipients know that you care about sharing, and a way to trace back any shared copies that end up in the wrong hands or on the internet.

Certainly you wouldn't need to personalize all of these types of documents all the time. But in many cases, doing so could give you piece of mind:
  1. Reports
  2. Manuscripts
  3. Newsletters
  4. Business Plans
  5. Legal Documents
  6. Health Records
  7. Resumes
  8. RFPs
  9. Compensation Plans
  10. Memos
  11. Ebooks
  12. Computer Code
  13. Financial Statements
  14. Schematics
  15. Tax Records
  16. Invitations (for an exclusive party)
  17. Manuals
  18. Ballots/Voting
  19. Company Policies/Handbooks
  20. ScreenPlays
  21. Schedules
  22. Insurance Forms
  23. Itineraries
  24. Meeting Minutes
  25. Treasure Maps
  26. Academic Papers
  27. Software Design
  28. Performance Reviews
  29. Price Lists
Obviously this list is a small sample of the possibilities. Remember to use for simple, one time jobs and DocMonk for robust PDF personalization and delivery.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


I'm pleased to announce that is officially launched. is really just a simple hack that takes advantage of the DocMonk API and makes it faster and easier than ever to stamp a person's name to a PDF document.

Hopefully you'll find it useful.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Font Snobs

Some connoisseurs of all things font are "outraged" over Ikea's decision to use Verdana as their new official font. Verdana of course was invented by Microsoft and is freely available.

It's interesting that some critics call Ikea "cheap" for choosing a free font. Undoubtedly others are just hating on all things Microsoft.

A question: Would anybody accuse Idea of being "cheap" if they used open source software? What exactly is the difference?

Also, isn't Ikea's cheapness part of its corporate image?

Anyway, this reminded me of this article from the Wall Street Journal about another infamous font: Comic Sans.

I think as an information publisher, your goal should be to avoid these debates entirely. In response to the Ikea flap, Fast Company has published a list of six fonts that people love to hate. Perhaps you should have a "banned font" list in your organization?

You never know who may be looking down their nose, stroking their chin, tut-tutting you for your choice of font.

If you were a publisher of sheet music. . .

Do you think this would have any effect on your business?

By the way, our API was just released today and the example application uses a PDF of sheet music. Why did I use sheet music? I needed some content in the public domain and it seemed like a classical composer would fit the bill.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Sony Steps up with Wireless E-Reader to Rival the Kindle

I think it's a sure thing that e-books are going to change the high-value newsletters and reports industry in a big way. It's important to pay attention to these developments. With that in mind. . .

From cnet:
Sony on Tuesday announced its first e-book reader with built-in wireless capability. The new Reader Daily Edition offers an integrated 3G wireless connection, allowing it to access Sony's online bookstore as well as yet-to-be-announced newspaper and magazine subscriptions. The unit--which boasts a 7-inch touch screen (displayable in portrait or landscape mode)--will sell for $399 when it debuts in December. Wireless service is provided by AT&T with no direct charge to the customer.

It looks like Sony has learned a lot from the Kindle, which was a big hit mostly because the built-in wireless capability made it much more user-friendly.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Internal AP Document Describing their Online Content Strategy Leaked

As I wrote a few weeks ago, the Associated Press is planning to launch a new online licensing scheme designed to make sure they get paid when their content gets posted online on blogs and other sites.

The document describes AP's effort to store and track all of their content internally, track its use online through their own licensing technology, and look for unauthorized uses using web robot crawlers. It also has some analysis of the roles sites like Wikipedia, Google News and Twitter are playing in the current news environment.

If you're a puppy-dog content-provider wondering what the big dogs are thinking vis-a-vis intellectual property, it might be worth a read.

Of course, if the AP used DocMonk to distribute their confidential memos, they'd probably have better luck keeping their secrets secret. Just sayin.

Monday, August 17, 2009

SitePoint, Publisher of Information Products for Web Professionals, Eliminates Passwords on their PDF Books

An eloquent and forward-thinking rationale for unprotected PDFs here.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

"View in HTML" Feature in Gmail Stripping out PDF DRM

Yet another way that DRM for PDF can be defeated.

Also, check the comments of the link above. Everybody is sharing their favorite way to defeat protected PDFs. That's the "copyright arms race."

Monday, July 27, 2009

Associated Press Experiments with Increased Content Control

The Associated Press is trying to combat online piracy by adding a bunch of tracking to their documents. I don't really understand exactly what they will be doing, but it looks like they intend to include some kind beacon or other tracking technology that will supposedly tell them when and where their content is being used, so they can go after illegal uses.

It's too early to tell, but here are a couple of predictions:
  • The system will be buggy, annoying and will outright fail in many instances.
  • The backlash will come in the form of users actively working to defeat the controls.
  • The backlash will also come in the form of users choosing to use other news sources.
I don't see how the AP can achieve anything with this strategy, but who knows?

Saturday, July 25, 2009

PDFs Now Face More Security Threats than Microsoft Windows

By one measure, 48% of all computer attacks (viruses, worms and the like) are now targeted at PDF documents. I don't think many consumers are aware yet of the threats associated with PDF files.

However, I'm willing to bet that in the future, we will see more and more people and IT departments being wary of PDF files. In particular, files that contain scripts or other security features may be banned completely at some companies and be shunned consumers in general.

If you're relying on a PDF security solution that involves tracking opens, forwards, prints, etc., this could be a serious problem. To a virus scanner or IT department email filter, it may be impossible to tell legitimate tracking technology from the malicious scripts that might be embedded in a document. You may find that your documents get caught by filters or go unread as a result.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Are Legal Briefs Protected by Copyright?

As I understand it, legal briefs filed in court are in the public record but not in the public domain. Where does that leave companies like Lexis and Westlaw who sell access to these works?

Monday, July 20, 2009


One thing that I fervently believe high-value information publishers need to understand is that it's probably not a good idea to engage your customers in a copyright arms race.

What do I mean by "copyright arms-race?" I'm talking about publishers who have a strategy of doing anything and everything they can to make it hard to share their work. I believe that if a publisher adopts this approach, he should not be surprised when his customers (who really are good, honest people most of the time) start devoting significant time and energy to defeat any and all controls and restrictions on sharing copyrighted works.

The music recording industry is probably the best example of this. They tried everything they could think of to ratchet up control over users' copying, including annoying "Digital Rights Management" schemes for online purchases and lawsuits against file sharers.

That strategy resulted in music fans adopting an "anything goes" attitude that basically declared that anything that could be done to defeat the copy protections was fair game. Rather than appealing to the decent character of their customers, record companies aroused the warrior instinct inside music fans. The music fans then proceeded to win the war of piracy and cause significant pain for the recording industry.

I absolutely believe that publishers have the right to control the copying of their work, and they have the right to impose technological tools to thwart copying. However, I also believe these rights should be exercised wisely. Just because it's a right, doen't mean that you have to exercise it. In many cases it is wiser and more productive to have a light touch.

Respect your customers and they might just respect your copyright in return.

Welcome to DocMonk

This is the inaugural post of the DocMonk blog. To kick things off, I'd like to take a moment to just introduce myself and very briefly explain what DocMonk is about.

My name is Jay Muntz. I have over 12 years of software development experience. Over that time I've built many different web-based applications including marketing, email and content management.

For the past several months I've been working on building DocMonk. DocMonk is a web site that allows print publishers to send their readers personalized PDF document and to track when those documents are downloaded. This idea is driven by a specific philosophy I have which says that you must demonstrate respect and trust towards your users, if you want them to respect your copyright.

There's a lot more to say but I'll leave it at that for now. DocMonk will transition from private beta to pubic beta within a few days. Contact me anytime if you'd like to know more.