An American federal judge in New York has ruled that telling users how to strip the DRM from legally purchased ebooks is not contributory copyright infringement. The ebook store Abbey House Media was sued by publisher Penguin and Simon & Schuster because it had explained customers how to strip DRM from their purchased ebooks after the store had to shut down.
The store was contractually obligated to add DRM to ebooks which restricted on which devices the purchased ebooks could be read. When the store was shut down users could no longer add new devices, meaning that if they bought a new e-reader they would need to purchase the same book again to make them readable on their new device.
Ebook store Abbey House Media did give users a month’s notice but also explained that using the free software Calibre they could remove entirely remove the DRM from ebooks. That would allow users to transfer the ebooks limitless to other and new devices. In the shut down notice the company wrote, “many of our customers are using Calibre or other tools to strip DRM from their downloaded eBooks in order to have them available indefinitely should they change reading devices.”
In the same notice the company explicitly stated this should only be done for personal use and only on legitimately purchased ebooks. Publisher Penguin and Simon & Schuster argued that with the notice Abbey House was engaging in contributory infringement and inducing people to infringe. The judge decided otherwise and ruled that Abbey House was enabling personal backups and device transfers which were non-infringing. The publishers also couldn’t identify any specific instance of direct infringement. Since contributory infringement requires both knowledge of direct infringement and material assistance to the direct infringer, the judge dismissed the claim.