What Is Social DRM?

social drm service

Most people are familiar with digital rights management (DRM). It’s that annoying software that prevents you from transferring your Amazon Kindle eBooks to other hardware. However, social DRM is a little different than that, and it still does a pretty good job of protecting your intellectual property.

There are many types of ebook DRM but we will cover only things that you need to know about social DRM in this article.

What exactly is social DRM?

social drm for ebooks

It is simply a fancy term for dynamic watermarking. In this case, the dynamic watermark will usually contain the user's information as a way to prevent piracy.

The next sections will detail exactly how it works, and how it can prevent piracy.

How social DRM works

Social DRM for eBooks works a little differently than for other files. This is because an eBook is published mostly in PDF format, which does not allow direct alteration of the file.

With that in mind, social DRM programs work by adding an additional overlay to the PDF. This overlay contains the watermark.

What type of watermark can be used with it?

You have three different types of watermarks to use for social DRM. They are the following:

  • Readable – As the name implies, this dynamic watermark is visible and readable to the viewer. It will often contain informational content such as copyright information, a name, or an email address.
  • Illegible – This dynamic watermark is also visible, but the user can’t decipher the writing. This usually contains a user ID or some type of user identifier. The visibility makes the user less likely to pirate content.
  • Hidden – The user cannot see the watermark. This watermark will always contain some type of user identifier.

Social DRM reduces piracy

The main use of it is to reduce or track piracy. And this is done in a few different ways. This section will focus on those uses.

Reduce Piracy

Some of the dynamic marketing methods outlined above do a good job of reducing piracy, but not at tracking piracy. For instance, a watermark with the user’s name or email address will deter most piracy because no one wants their name or email address attached to the pirated book.

This method does not work so great for tracking piracy, though.

Forensically Track Piracy

A hidden dynamic watermark will greatly help you track down pirated copies of your work. You may even press charges against the pirate. However, the user cannot see the watermark, so people are more likely to share the information.

In my opinion, using social DRM to forensically track piracy is not really worth doing without a deterrent. Use a visible deterrent to prevent piracy, and use a hidden watermark to track down any pirates.

Social DRM (watermarking) vs regular DRM

watermark with user info

Social DRM and DRM might share a name, but they are vastly different. DRM, in particular, has a few different problems that have been detailed in the media over the past few years.

Anyway, here are some of the differences between social DRM and regular DRM.


The biggest difference between DRM and social DRM is compatibility. DRM only has compatibility with certain apps and software, which isn’t very convenient.

Social DRM is compatible with everything. Remember, it’s just a normal PDF with a watermark. If you can open a PDF, then you can use it with social DRM.

That’s very convenient for the user.


DRM often has tight restrictions on features. For instance, many DRM will restrict the ability to print, copy and paste, access the document, transfer to other devices, or do text-to-speech. All those restrictions reduce usability.

Social DRM does not have any restrictions. All it has is a watermark that might not even be visible. Again, it is much more convenient for the user in terms of features.


The exact security of a DRM varies depending on the DRM. The one thing that doesn’t vary is that fixing security breaches is much more complicated with DRM software because it potentially involves updating both user hardware and user software. A DRM is often compromised for much longer after a breach has been discovered.

On the other hand, social DRM does not have this problem. The creator simply has to find a new watermarking technique if a watermark stripping hack has been discovered. In other words, it’s very easy to patch any security holes.


Another difference is the impact of hacking. There is no evidence that a DRM has been hacked after the hack unless the publisher uses proprietary software (ex. Amazon). This means that there is no way to determine where the content originally came from.

Yet again, it works differently. Sure, the watermark can be stripped, but there could be other watermarks that the hacker did not notice. This makes it a perfect deterrent. It can also aid in litigation.

Is it a viable alternative to DRM?

Yes. it is a viable alternative for both the publisher and the consumer.

The publisher still receives most of the piracy prevention while providing the consumer with a much better reading experience. Plus, social DRM allows for a little more personalization via the use of dynamic watermarks. That personalization definitely adds some professionalism to your eBook.

Really, many of the anti-piracy advantages of DRM are not particularly effective. In fact, DRM only works at preventing piracy if it hasn’t been hacked. It’s basically useless after a hack.

Social DRM works great at deterring piracy (preventing it before it actually happens). And it’s great for tracking down content thieves.

Final Thoughts

That covers it for social DRM for eBooks. It really is a great tool that just doesn’t receive much mainstream attention – it really does work quite well. It’s customizable, very accessible, and compatible on most devices if not all. The best part is that it does all that while still offering protection against piracy. That said, make sure to check out our service if social DRM interests you. We also consider ourselves as an ebook watermark service so if you’re searching for an easy-to-use service please feel free to signup.