Stripping Kindle DRM with Lego

DRM

Consider a book sitting on a shelf. You can lend it out to a friend, you don’t need a special device to read it, and if you are so inclined, you can photocopy it. This isn’t true with Kindle eBooks that place severe restrictions on what you can do with a book via DRM. Although it is possible to strip eBook DRM with a few programs on your computer, [Peter] came up with a fool-proof way that’s an amateur engineering marvel. He’s turning Kindle eBooks into plain text using Lego.

[Peter] is using a few bits of a Lego NTX system to press the, ‘next page’ button on his Kindle, then smash the space bar on his Mac to take a picture. These pictures are then sent to a cloud-based text recognition service. After a few hours of listening to plastic gears grinding, [Peter] has a copy of his eBook in plain text format sitting in his computer.

As impractical as it looks, using a robot, camera, and OCR is actually a really, really good way to turn eBooks plagued with DRM into a text file. Even if Amazon updates their DRM to make the current software cracking methods break, [Peter] will always have his Lego robot ready to scan a few hundred pages of text at a time.

Comments

  1. voxnulla says:

    Ah yes, using NXT to hammer a key on a keyboard, I did use this method as well. It took a surprising long time before I got the more elegant solution to work as reliably.

  2. BiOzZ says:

    crude but functional … love it!

  3. Joejoedancer says:

    Breaking the law, breaking the law

    • voxnulla says:

      What law? Screw DRM shrink-wrapped license bullshit. These books are his to consume in any form he wishes to. It’s more like “Upholding ones right, upholding ones right”.

      • Fireboy says:

        Agreed. DRM is there for us to circumvent any way possible. Interesting how thees “laws” are designed help corporate profits and take away freedoms we had for 100 years. I would never touch an e-book reader with a 10 foot pole.

        • Dennis says:

          Yep. Decided to get a Kindle, and got one off eBay for cheap. Turns out it was reported as “Lost or Stolen” to Amazon, and I can’t register it to read my purchased books. I ended up stripping the DRM with a Calibre plugin and reading them that way.

      • Greenaum says:

        You don’t know what it’s like!

      • Blue Footed Booby says:

        Just for the record, it is indeed breaking the law in the united states, thanks to the DMCA, which makes bypassing any copy protections, even for legitimate purposes, unambiguously illegal.

        I’m not saying it’s morally wrong (because I don’t think it is) it’s just important for people to know exactly how dumb the law is, and that it’s entirely possible (however improbable) to land yourself in hot water this way.

    • F says:

      breakin a contract, breakin a contract

      doesn’t sound quite as catchy

      when can I get the law to enforce my contracts?

      • gabriel says:

        not even a contract. contract have legal grounds. End user license agreement… or better yet for this case and all DRM, Implied End User License Agreement.

        • SATovey says:

          I purchased an SLR Canon SX20 IS a few years back for a photography class I was taking. Once I opened her up and got everything working and in order I started gazing through the owners manual and found that the user license agreement dictates that I cannot use the camera for commercial purposes. So I spent $500+ on a camera that can do video recordings but it is according to the license agreement that I did not have access to at the time of purchase, nor was I informed of the limitation at the time of purchase, I cannot use in a for profit venue.

          Talk about an illegal contract, there you have one. It’s called the End User License Agreement.

  4. dALE says:

    Part meatspace part cyberspace part goldberg

  5. Bunedoggle says:

    The dripping and breathing sounds in the background combined with the gear whirring make the video truly great.

    Nice hack too.

  6. CorrosiveOne says:

    Bull shit, the DRM on the kindle is not over bearing this is about piracy.
    That opening line was horrible too…. why?

    “You can photocopy it” – legally no…. you can’t
    “You can lend out a book” – You can lend your kindle too……
    “You need a special device to read it” – Well a computer can read it, though if you are lending the kindle its not like you need the pc to read it.

    Really… HAD, really?

    • cybergibbons says:

      You can photocopy books legally. There are restrictions, but they are well known.

      Lending your kindle isn’t the same as lending a book. You lose your ability to look at all your other books unless you have another device.

      Also, I can’t sell my Kindle books on, or even pass them on permanently.

      I don’t know what happens to my books if Amazon die.

      They aren’t the same as physical books, the DRM restricts you further than just owning a book. A lot of people think this isn’t a good thing.

      I feel the point of this project is that if you can read it as a human, you cannot prevent it from being copied.

      • Z00111111 says:

        The problem with a digital copy is that you can essentially create an infinite amount of copies with very little effort if DRM isn’t applied.
        DRM isn’t about stealing your rights, it’s about protecting the rights of those who created and distributed work.

        If you don’t like DRM, go buy the rights to books you like so you can distribute it openly and freely the way you want.

        • F says:

          “it’s about protecting the rights of those who created and distributed work.”

          Yeah we’ve heard this stupid argument before, here try my version:

          “Every car that drives past my lemonade stand is a lost sale, where is my check?”

        • alan says:

          Are you this opposed to libraries? Because every time someone checks out a book, anywhere in the world, that’s a lost sale.

        • F says:

          I’m pointing out the stupidity of assuming that every time a book is copied, it’s a lost sale.

          • A Bryant says:

            It more like walking into some strangers house house, watching there tv and drinking there beer!
            They put all the hard work into getting the house, the tv and beer. who are you to go in and help yourself to stuff you didn’t earn or create!

          • Difference is that in book copying scenario you don’t actually loose anything (beer, couch space etc). You only don’t earn.

          • cybergibbons says:

            Analogy is nearly always a poor tool in debate.

            It’s nothing like walking into someone’s house and drinking their beer.

            The author doesn’t know it’s happening, there is no intrusion.

            The author doesn’t have something taken away from that they already have.

            The author isn’t being deprived use of his possessions.

            There is no situation where it is right to steal someone’s possessions. Stripping DRM doesn’t necessarily mean earnings are being lost, it can mean that someone just doesn’t want their rights restricted.

        • cybergibbons says:

          DRM’s primary intent might be to protect revenues, but in doing so it does remove some of the rights I would have with a physical book.

          DRM doesn’t work. If it can be viewed by a human, it can be copied. It isn’t serving it’s purpose to protect revenues as those that want to pirate can still pirate. But those who want to maintain the same rights as with a physical book can’t.

    • voxnulla says:

      Yes really, now go play in traffic…

  7. Ren says:

    I suppose Amazon could start scanning clouds for plain text…

  8. Oh great, now we are going to have to get chips implanted in our eyes to read drm material. Thanks!

    Just kidding.

    This hack is great. The use of legos shows just how patheticly easy the DRM is to get around.

  9. ejonesss says:

    even faster way.

    1. set quicktime player to record from the camera.

    2. hold the kindle in front of the mac web camera.

    3. flip through the pages faster.

    4. save the movie to pictures.

    5. if you have an ocr program then convert to text.

    if the kindle has a video port like hdmi then get your self a hdcp stripper and a hdmi capture device and record from the kindle and repeat steps 4 and 5.

    • Michael says:

      Taking this a step further: The kindle app runs on Android, there are Android emulators that can do screen capture and simulate keypresses. Then it’s basically the same from there, send the screen captures to be OCD’d. It could happen very fast with no hardware at all!

      • Greenaum says:

        Are allowed to change the font you view a book in? Cos designing an OCR-friendly font could make it a lot more reliable, I think. Either the retro 70s-scifi-style bulges on the letters (the OCR font they use on cheques), or even simply display each letter as a small barcode or blockcode. You could write some software to decode the images yourself. Or, to keep the existing OCR, keep things as they are but just choose a very clear and unambiguous font.

        • F says:

          If the image capture is decent quality then “OCR” is barely even necessary and any font with distinct characters will do, we are talking about the bitmaps of characters being transferred from one computer to another. Don’t forget the kindle screen is e-ink with 1 bit/pixel and outrageous contrast.

    • DarkerSeb says:

      Replace 1. with
      Create a USB HID device that triggers the spacebar, rather than hitting it all the time.

  10. Chris C. says:

    This reminds me of the axe riddle from “John Dies At the End”:

    Is it the same axe… or eBook? The content is the same, minus OCR errors. And legally it’s still the same. But as it’s been rebuilt from the ground up, I feel it’s incorrect to suggest the DRM has been “stripped” as [Brian] put it – which suggests a more surgical process of removing the DRM, while leaving the eBook otherwise completely unchanged.

    Also, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ 2002 open letter affirming that book buyers have the right to loan, resell, or donate books, clearly applies to physical books only. [Peter] is delusional if he truly thinks it has any relevance to eBooks.

  11. Karl says:

    Am I the only one who feels sorry for the space bar?

  12. Crann says:

    there is an even EASIER way, calibre. Nice little software package that will convert the amazon file into a nice easily shared to the reading circle .mobi file

  13. Hirudinea says:

    This is so “stupid” it’s brilliant! My hat is off to you sir.

  14. soundman98 says:

    i say lego’s in an attempt to kill grammar nazi’s, and enjoy saying legolas because it’s fun.

    death to nazis

    • Blue Footed Booby says:

      Yeah, I’m a proper fan of not being a language dumbass but there comes a point where if you correct people, you’re being a dip. I’m not sure exactly where the line is, but pluralization of made-up words that are corporate brand names from a different language is, I think, past it. Granted it’s not as bad as people who grumpily demand it be written “LEGO.”

  15. Jeckle says:

    I’m wondering if the cloud used for this hack is Amazon’s one :)

  16. Chris says:

    I love LEGO hacks like this. I would have thought that setting up the kindle-app on the mac and just scripting the whole process would be a possibility for those that have no LEGO around.

  17. Anna says:

    Why use a lego robot but not a tiny software (http://bit.ly/16SfhWO) to break the DRM?

    I hate DRM, just decrypt all my purchased books and have a safe back up of them.

  18. fartface says:

    Neat art project, someone needs to introduce him to Calibre and the plugin that does the same thing but a LOT faster and with no errors introduced via OCR.

  19. zirafa says:

    Calibre is awesome.

    If you’re feeling nostalgic for the old days, you know you can actually stick your kindle in a xerox machine to make amazingly crisp-looking photocopies (no book spines to bend).

  20. noshius says:

    As cool as the robot is, there is a much easier way to automate such keystrokes. There is a scriptable package called AutoHotKey which can send the keystrokes virtually, no physical key pressing required. It also has the advantages of being able to respond to changes on the screen, so you can produce scripts that adapt to varying conditions, such as the last page of the book. It’s pretty simple to pick up and learn, but it is only for Windows. There may be some equivalent for mac out there… http://www.autohotkey.com/

  21. aeva says:

    It will always work, at least until they update the kindle to require you to fill out a captcha to turn the page =)

  22. johhn says:

    This is all nice and good but amazon has a kindle viewer of windows(and it’s okay w WINE), wouldn’t be easier to keep this all digital and take a screenshot?

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