Digital Tool Tracks Illegal E-Book Sharing

Digital Tool Tracks Illegal E-Book Sharing

Subtle textual changes made to punctuation and words can track pirated copies of electronic texts.

Keerthana Jagadeesh
  • 20 june 2013

A German research group has figured out a way to track the unauthorised sharing of e-books by making small changes to the text’s grammar and punctuation. The changes are like digital breadcrumbs that publishers can trace when they are shared without authorisation.

The research group of Darmstadt Technical University’s Secure Documents has received backing from the German government and a slew of publishers eager to put an end to the illegal sharing of E-books. E-book digital rights management technology (DRM) has been under development for a few years now with the increased popularity of E-readers and unauthorized E-books surfacing online.


However, the way E-book DRM works is still being modulated. The current method makes small changes in punctuation- the misplacing of a comma, an apostrophy or a semi-colon. And also words changes like replacing  “nice” with “cute.” Due to these changes, each E-book copy is unique and traceable to the owner.


Researchers have put together a list of 15 “text watermarks” that they believe would be harmless to the literary configuration of the author’s words. It is yet to be seen if authors and publishing houses will allow for these “text watermarks” to alter the specific literary intentions of the author.

Darmstadt Technical University’s Secure Documents


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