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Remove the DRM From Amazon Kindle Books

Disclaimer: I don't endorse pirating e-books. If you do this, you won't hurt Amazon or Apple or Sony, but you might hurt the author.

Sermon: Why DRM Is Bad

Like many people you own an Amazon Kindle device for reading e-books.

And like many companies that trade in digital intellectual property, Amazon includes digital rights management (DRM) software in their downloadable material. The purpose is ostensibly to prevent piracy, and for that DRM is modestly effective. DRM also inconveniences legitimate customers.

The problem here is that America's copyright lawyers figured out how to change the rules of ownership. When you buy a paperback book, its content belongs to the author, but the physical book belongs to you. You can loan it to someone, trade it, sell it, or just keep it and reread it as many times as you want. But when you "buy" a Kindle book, the physical property still belongs to Amazon, and you're merely renting temporary authorization from Amazon to store the book on up to 6 Amazon-approved, DRM-compatible devices. This arrangement is bad for customers, for a number of reasons:

  • If Amazon ever alters their terms of service, or if your Kindle book is deleted from your Amazon account, you will no longer be able to download and store your purchased book on your Kindle-compatible devices.
  • If Amazon ever ceases to exist, or merely aborts their Kindle business, all your Kindle books may well vanish. Sound implausible? Kodak, Enron, General Motors, Sears, and the entire typewriter and horse-drawn carriage industries were once "too big to fail" too.
  • DRM interferes with traditional legitimate uses of copyrighted text, like satire, or reuse in teaching materials, or citation in reviews of the work or in academic papers. As a former IT guy at a public university, I frequently battled with DRM-ed written and recorded materials that instructors wanted to excerpt for use in their classrooms. The worst offender here is DVD region encoding.
  • DRM-ed Kindle books are not usable in non-Amazon book readers and software. The Amazon .azw format is common now, but what about a decade from now? How many people still have the equipment to read a floppy disk, VHS tape, phonograph record, or audio cassette? I've also spent hours retrieving materials from now-ancient media, some of which had been improperly stored and was badly deteriorated. If it's important to you, keep it safe.

To Remove the DRM from a Kindle E-Book:

  1. Download and install the Calibre e-book management software. It costs nothing and is published under the GNU open-source software license, although if you find it useful you might throw the developer a few dollars. Calibre is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux.
  2. Download Apprentice Alf's DRM removal tools for ebooks. This comes as a .zip file, so open it up and put the "DeDRM_calibre_plugin" folder where you can find it. (You don't need to unzip the "DeDRM_plugin.zip" file in the DeDRM_calibre_plugin folder.)
  3. Start up Calibre and go to Preferences -> Advanced -> Plugins.
  4. Click the "Load plugin from file" button.
  5. Select the "DeDRM_plugin.zip" file you placed in step 2 and click "Open". Calibre will add this plugin under its "File type plugins" list in the Preferences window.
  6. If you're importing your e-books directly from a Kindle device, you'll need to add your Kindle's serial number. Select "DeDRM" under the "File type plugins" list and click the "Customize plugin" button. In the "Customize" window that opens, click the "eInk Kindle ebooks" button, then click the + button to add your Kindle's serial number. (On my basic wi-fi Kindle this is listed under Settings -> Device Info.) Enter the serial number as 16 digits, without spaces. Then click the "Apply" button, and close out the preferences window.
  7. Make sure your Kindle is connected to your computer as a USB device. If it is connected, you'll be able to browse it like your computer's hard drive, a flash drive, phone, or camera.
  8. Now you need to add your Kindle books to the "Library" in Calibre. There are various ways to do this. In Calibre, you can click the "Add Books" button, or click "Library" and then right-click and select "Add books", or just drag a bunch of .azw3 and .mobi files from your Kindle folder into the Library window.
  9. If you configured the De-DRM plugin correctly (steps 3-6), Calibre will automatically strip the DRM from your Kindle books as it adds them to its library. This can take a while depending on how many books you're importing.
  10. As Calibre imports your books, it copies them to your "Documents" folder under "Calibre library".
  11. To ensure the DRM was removed, you can try converting one of your imported books to a different format. Right-click one of the books in your Calibre Library and select "Convert books -> Convert individually". The default export format is .epub, which is fine for testing. Click OK, and if the process completes with no errors then you know the DRM is gone. (The .epub book is placed in the same location as the original file in your "Documents" folder.)

Back up your DRM-free .mobi and .azw3 files. You do back everything up, right?