September 28, 2005 | By Annalee Newitz

DRM Sinks to New Low

Memletics is one of those dime-a-dozen companies selling a product it promises will teach "accelerated learning" and how to "remember more." What makes Memletics remarkable is the digital rights management (DRM) scheme it uses on its books. The company's main product is a training manual that explains the "Memletics advanced learning system" -- and if you loan it to a friend, you do so at considerable personal risk. You see, Mimletic prints out your "name, address, telephone number, credit card number, and other information" on every tenth page of the e-book. The truly amazing part is that the company does this with its printed manuals too.

The obvious subtext here is that if you share your valuable Memletics manual, you open yourself up to identity theft or worse, since the company includes your address and phone number. This is one of the only examples we've seen of DRM that works by intimidation rather than technical measures. It does have one thing in common with good old fashioned copy protection schemes like DVD CSS, however: people can't make fair use copies of the books. Readers are also threatened with identity theft even if they never make a single copy. Somebody glancing over a Memletics fan's shoulder on the subway could jot down her credit card information and start buying crates of Scientology books with it, or maybe just show up at her home. And what if your child uses Memletics? We work hard to teach kids that it's not safe to give away identifying information to strangers and here Memletics is doing it to them as punishment for violating a $32 contract.

Adding insult to injury, Memletics offers "incentives" to people who report violations of their copyright. These include, according to the company's website, "A discount, up to the full purchase price, of a valid Memletics product. Up to 5% of any net proceeds resulting from legal action against the parties involved. Other incentives as we see appropriate."

UPDATE: The publisher of Memletics contacted us to let us know that this entry is "factually incorrect" because Memletics does not include addresses or full phone numbers in the personal information that's inscribed in their books anymore. Indeed, that is what the site says today, but the Wayback machine comes to the rescue again, providing us with yesterday's page that we wrote about. Quick work on the part of Memletics' webmaster, but still not so swift for consumers, who are still left with a big chunk of their personal information printed inside their books. But this change in policy is a good start.

The publisher also mentions that people who want new versions of their books, with less personal information inside, can get them from the Memletics website free of charge. He adds: "I highly recommend other publishers do not follow the original path we took to protect ebooks."


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