Guarding eBooks -- And Other Documents -- With Adobe's Content Server

By Dan Orzech

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Adobe Systems has a plan for protecting intellectual property on the Web. The San Jose, Calif. firm's latest release of its digital publishing system, Adobe Content Manager 3.0, offers libraries -- and other organizations -- the ability to distribute and protect Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF) eBooks and digital content.

The Adobe Content Server has been available for several years, according to the company, and is in use at several hundred retail Web sites, including giants like Amazon and Barnes & Noble, to distribute eBooks. There are an estimated 40,000 to 50,000 titles available electronically, according to Adobe.

Version 3.0 of the Adobe Content Server, released earlier this month, gives libraries the ability to automatically have the server loan out a number of titles, and keep track of them, so it knows how many copies are available, and who has checked them out. The Content Server can now also be used to set an expiration date, so the content can't be read after a certain time.

Not Just For Libraries
While Adobe has aimed this latest release at libraries, these features could prove useful for protecting digital content in corporate settings as well. A company might use the Content Server, for example, to control the distribution of sensitive documents.

"You could provide a confidential report to users inside your company," says Shafath Syed, a product manager at Adobe, "and be assured that they couldn't pass it on to someone else. It could also have a time limit on it, so if the report was a draft, you could set it to expire in a week."

When readers check out a digital title from a library, it is automatically downloaded onto their PC or laptop for reading, so they don't need to be online to read it. When the lending period for a title expires, the patron no longer has access to the eBook, and the title then becomes instantly available to others.

The Adobe Content Server prevents documents from being distributed beyond the intended recipient by "locking" the content to a particular PC through encryption. Content sent to a user by the Adobe Content Server will be encrypted for that particular user's PC. While the system can not prevent the document from being sent to another user, it can't be read on any other computer.

Most users read eBooks on personal computers or laptops. The market for dedicated ebook hardware devices never really took off, according to Syed. Adobe plans to add support for PDAs in the future, he says.

A hosted version of the Content Server is also available, through Adobe partners including Baker & Taylor and OverDrive. These firms are also offering libraries an Adobe eBook "Starter Pack," which includes 100 titles from publishers such as HarperCollins, Routledge, University of California Press and ComicsOne.

Adobe Content Server 3.0 Standard Edition consists of a one-time fee of $5,000 for one Adobe Content Server destination site capable of hosting 250 titles. Expansion packages are $1,000 per additional 500 titles.