eBooks Expire When Credit Card Expires


In one of those stories that cause you to do a double take, we learned this week that there are still companies or other content providers that are relying entirely too much on antiquated digital rights media, or DRM.

Barnes & Noble is the latest company that’s refusing users access to content they’ve already purchased if the credit card used with the transaction has expired. Ah, technology…

Think back to those glorious initial days when Napster was king and we could buy all the music we wanted, for usually less than a dollar per track. Those tunes also came with DRM, which put restrictions on how many times users could burn the music to CDs. You could also download your Napster library to three computers. Get a new computer? No problem – delete one of your authorized computers and add the new one. Of course, Napster isn’t as formidable a content provider as it once was, courtesy of iTunes and other music services. Bring in Amazon with its gazillion books, songs, movies and television shows and suddenly, DRM has lost its mojo, too. We – as in consumers – were free from the tight reins DRM was so well known for. Until now.

What is DRM?

Digital rights management is a specific aspect of technology that focuses on who gets access to what and then how that information can be used. It’s used by computer makers, software engineers, writers, musicians and others with copyrighted content or data. The goal is for the owner of the content to maintain control and ownership. This came to light more than ten years ago when musicians were discovering their music was being freely downloaded across the internet, which cut into their profits.

Back then, not even a credit card was needed if you knew which websites to go to. And it made sense – no one wants to pour their heart into their creative efforts and then not get paid for it. In short, DRM is any technology that inhibits uses of digital content that are not desired or intended by the content provider.

Along with Barnes and Noble, other companies such as Amazon, Apple Inc., Microsoft and Sony (just to name a few) have used digital rights management. In 1998 the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, or DMCA, was put into law here in the U.S. It meant criminal charges could be levied against anyone who “stole” protected content for either their own use or to turn it into a profit making scheme for themselves.


Many have compared those pesky media rights to malware – and in many ways, that’s what it has evolved into. With all of the restrictions for the end user, it’s little wonder we didn’t lose our minds back then. But now, we know better. Unless you’re Barnes & Noble.

In its efforts to prevent what it believes could be efforts to pirate protected content, B&N still forces those license agreements down users’ throats. Remember that copy of Pride & Prejudice you bought when you first bought your Nook? You had great intentions to finally read it, only to keep it on your lower digital shelf. Now you’re gearing up for vacation and wondering what you’re going to do on that long flight and it dawns on you – there’s one book you’ve not yet tackled and what do you know? You already own it.

When you go to work a little electronic magic and get ready to “crack the spine”, you realize that spine’s sealed shut and you’re stuck with an error message that makes little sense, until you investigate and realize the credit card you used is expired. But wait – you already bought the book. What difference does it make if that credit card is expired? Chalk it up to those digital rights that are like a ball and chain. Want to read the book? You have no choice but to key in a new credit card number. You won’t be charged again, but it’s part of the book chain’s policies that profiles be updated when credit cards expire.

Rent and Own

Many consumers are frustrated and understandably so. We don’t rent or borrow those books – we buy them. To keep an updated credit card on file in order to access something you already own is frustrating, and frankly, ridiculous. It’s invasive, too. Already people are buying their books, stripping the DRM properties and storing them on their Nooks or Kindles only after they’ve assured themselves they won’t be stuck with a book they can’t read until they prove they own a credit card again. This is definitely not the way to build loyal customer bases – especially if you’re Barnes & Noble, which has been taking a hit in recent years against Amazon and its Kindle.

So will Barnes & Noble change its policies? For the sake of its many Nook owners, let’s hope that it will.


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