What If Gutenburg Had Licensed The Bible?

I believe there are some similarities between the emergence of the eBook and the printing press. Both are transformative technologies whose ability to disseminate information to larger audiences marked a milestone in literacy and information access. While expensive and cumbersome in their own ways when they first came out, each innovation cycle has reduced the cost and has increased material availability through a variety of means. Gutenberg’s press would ultimately revolutionize the printed word by mechanizing the process; eBooks will revolutionize the publishing world by removing the remaining barriers to written content.

The difference that is emerging is how they are treated when it comes to rights of ownership. The first-sale doctrine does not apply to eBooks; one cannot re-sell or lend a title that they legally purchased. The limitations of eBook formats and ereaders themselves mean that some titles are not universally accessible. Furthermore, the prevalent winds of eBooks is leaning towards a licensing format in which control over one’s personal library has been ceded to another, be it corporation, author, or middle man content provider.

This is not an acceptable situation.

This is a correctable situation but it will require the combined efforts of all parties. It is an effort that is bigger than the librarian profession and the publishing field for it encompasses the entire spectrum of literature, from the author to the end user and all the people and institutions between. It will not be a sprint but a marathon where the ideal end result is a model that allows all to thrive. It will not be clean nor easy, but it is a process that has to happen. Not simply for ourselves, but for the future of literature and information access.

That is why the eBook User’s Bill of Rights is so important. And this is why we must act. For if you thought that the question in the title of this post was absurd, it could be a cruel reality in the new eBook world unless action is taken now. It is not something that librarians can pass up.

The eBook User’s Bill of Rights

The eBook User’s Bill of Rights is a statement of the basic freedoms that should be granted to all eBook users.

The eBook User’s Bill of Rights

Every eBook user should have the following rights:

  • the right to use eBooks under guidelines that favor access over proprietary limitations
  • the right to access eBooks on any technological platform, including the hardware and software the user chooses
  • the right to annotate, quote passages, print, and share eBook content within the spirit of fair use and copyright
  • the right of the first-sale doctrine extended to digital content, allowing the eBook owner the right to retain, archive, share, and re-sell purchased eBooks

I believe in the free market of information and ideas.

I believe that authors, writers, and publishers can flourish when their works are readily available on the widest range of media. I believe that authors, writers, and publishers can thrive when readers are given the maximum amount of freedom to access, annotate, and share with other readers, helping this content find new audiences and markets. I believe that eBook purchasers should enjoy the rights of the first-sale doctrine because eBooks are part of the greater cultural cornerstone of literacy, education, and information access.

Digital Rights Management (DRM), like a tariff, acts as a mechanism to inhibit this free exchange of ideas, literature, and information. Likewise, the current licensing arrangements mean that readers never possess ultimate control over their own personal reading material. These are not acceptable conditions for eBooks.

I am a reader. As a customer, I am entitled to be treated with respect and not as a potential criminal. As a consumer, I am entitled to make my own decisions about the eBooks that I buy or borrow.

I am concerned about the future of access to literature and information in eBooks.  I ask readers, authors, publishers, retailers, librarians, software developers, and device manufacturers to support these eBook users’ rights.
These rights are yours.  Now it is your turn to take a stand.  To help spread the word, copy this entire post, add your own comments, remix it, and distribute it to others.  Blog it, Tweet it (#ebookrights), Facebook it, email it, and post it on a telephone pole.

CC0
To the extent possible under law, the person who associated CC0 with this work has waived all copyright and related or neighboring rights to this work.

Edit: If you are an author reading this, I suggest you read one of my follow-up posts to this, “How The eBook Reader’s Bill of Rights Benefits Authors“.

Edit: I’ve turned off comments on this post since I’m getting personal attacks on my character rather than the ideas that are presented. These overwrought hyperbolic comments are full of incorrect information, ignorance of what copyright and fair use actually entail as a legal terms, and offered a completely inaccurate portrayal of what was written.

You are entitled to your own opinion on the matter. You are not entitled to your own set of facts.

And for the person who asked how I would feel about having this blog post plastered all over the internet, I should point out that this blog post carries a CC0 or Public Domain notice. It’s meant to be shared without attribution as a public domain document. My blog is otherwise is licensed under CreativeCommons-A-NC-ND, meaning you can also post it wherever you want so long as you provide attribution (A), it is not for commercial gain(NC), and there are no derivatives created(ND).

So, to answer your question, go on ahead.

Copyright & The 21st Century

From the Volokh Conspiracy:

“We need stronger copyright or else we won’t get the next Shakespeare” is like arguing “We need the designated hitter, or how will we ever get the next Babe Ruth?” In a copyright-free world — not that I’m advocating such a thing, but hey, you brought it up — we’ll get the next Shakespeare the way we got the last Shakespeare, in a copyright-free world. The first copyright statute, the Statute of Anne, wasn’t passed until 1709, long after Shakespeare was a-moulderin’ in the grave. [That’s what we need a name for — this kind of absurdly misplaced historical argument]

It’s a reply piece to the New York Times article calling for a stronger copyright law entitled “Would the Bard have Survived the Web?” Both are worthy of reading, but the NYT piece puts the onus on piracy and assurance of rewards as a underlying rationale for support of the Combatting Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA). The short version is that this act would allow for the seizure of online domains without adequate notice or due process simply by an application from the Attorney General and an assentation of wrongdoing.

Yes, there is something really wrong with that.

I’m reminded of this video of Neil Gaiman talking about piracy and copyright that has been making the rounds on the web lately. In it, he makes quite the opposite case as to how piracy helped his sales in other markets. It’s short and worth viewing.

So, two opposing viewpoints on copyright. As librarians, we are stuck in the middle; we want information access to be as wide as possible but want to encourage authors, poets, and other creative people to continue to produce. What should we do to straddle this divide as best we can? How can we bring copyright into the 21st century?

Doctorow & The Future of Copyright

From the Guardian UK:

If copyright is to have winners and losers, then let’s start talking about who we want to see winning, and what victory should be.

In my world, copyright’s purpose is to encourage the widest participation in culture that we can manage – that is, it should be a system that encourages the most diverse set of creators, creating the most diverse set of works, to reach the most diverse audiences as is practical.

That is, I don’t want a copyright system that precludes making money on art, since there are some people who make good art who, credibly, would make less of it if there wasn’t any money to be had. But at the same time, I don’t think that you can judge a copyright system by how much money it delivers to creators[.]

This is just one of the better quotes from the latest Cory Doctorow column at the Guardian. I’d say that you should stop reading my entry right now and go read the column in its entirety while you have the spare time. For me, it gave me a perspective on an issue that I had been wrestling with in my mind for a long time. I was stuck in an infinite loop of the creator versus the common good, a revolving fight to allow content makers to control while still allowing people to build, use, or improve upon their creations. (This is what I get for being fair to a fault.) Here, in plain English (the Queen’s, not the colonists, for that matter), Mr. Doctorow lays a great foundation for determining how to approach copyright and the public interest that employs common sense criteria.

While Mr. Doctorow uses the music, movie, fashion, and architecture industries as examples of different cases of logical copyright assertion and consistent public interest doctrine, the industry I was looking for (and found missing) was authors in regards to ebooks. Given his history for giving away his own ebooks and getting companies to drop DRM on his books, I do have an understanding of his ideals for the market. And as much as I admire them, I understand that other authors and publishers may beg to differ. What I am wondering is if there is a balance that can be created so as to allow authors like Mr. Doctorow to drop certain copyright controls while allowing others to keep ebooks under their scrutiny (be it DRM or something else).

Obviously, it would be a system that allows for an opt out. That handles Mr. Doctorow’s end of that equation. But what would be the rights for those who opt in that make the most amount of sense for the author as well as the general public? A model based on print books is not going to work since the ebook resembles a music file more than its paper brethren. So maybe it’s time to dream up something new.

I have an idea, but it’s just that: an idea. So bear with me.

Why not create a pricing scale that reflect the balance of control between the author or publisher and the end user? To give an example to illustrate what I mean, let’s say you are shopping for an ebook by a popular author. A DRM, no transfer licensed ebook would cost $5; a DRM transfer limited ebook would cost $7.50; and a DRM free do-what-you-want-with-it no licensed ebook would cost $10. In other words, the cheaper prices reflect the assertion of author/publisher control of the material and the more expensive prices grant greater control or ownership. It’s a sliding scale in which the price determines the rights granted to the ebook.

Basically, you buy your way to the freedom you want for the material. Buy the cheaper DRM book and want the DRM free version? Pay the difference. Could people opt out of the scale and name one level of control and one price (even free)? Certainly. Under a scaling system like this, it doesn’t deny people who simply want to read without a concern towards readership. I believe that people will pay a premium for ownership, so why not utilize it as a revenue stream for the publisher or author? Yes, there are still concerns about piracy and authors that will only sell under one set of conditions. As this is an idea, I don’t have a firm grasp how to respond to those potential pitfalls. Hopefully, someone else reading this might have a solution. However, I think this is a step in the right direction for further development.

(As an aside, consider the fact that iTunes offered DRM free tracks at a premium before dropping down their price to compete with Amazon.)

Thoughts? Can something like this work?

Sunday Speculation: Copyright Cynicism

(I’ve always liked Will Manley’s sunday posts in the past, so now I’m going to steal the idea of asking a weekly philosophic question of the library community. YOINK!)

Ok, be honest: have you ever looked at a patron checking out the maximum number of audio CDs (either music or books) and thought to yourself, “That person is just going to go home and rip them into iTunes or burn them onto CDs”?

[raises his hand] I know I have!

But when it comes to people borrowing movies or books, the thought never crosses my mind. Even though we are now in the age of DVD and Blu Ray copyright crackers and the home photocopying machines, I don’t think that a person taking out the maximum number of movies is going home to copy them.

Is this just me? Is it just the history of music and computers has followed a different path? What do you think?

The AP is Mad as Hell and It’s Not Going To Take It Anymore

The Associated Press, a widely recognized prize winning news organization, has decided that it is not going to take it anymore. They are looking to control their content by adding a “digital wrapper” to stories so as to ensure that they are being read through licensed sources. This is intended to thwart unauthorized search engines and aggregators who derive profit through ads placed next to links to AP stories. Also, it will allow them to determine what is being read on individual computers and what sites people are gaining access to them. Furthermore, they want news sites that use their content to run the same software as part of a “digital permissions framework” that would inform the publisher of their permission obligations with individual stories.

I can’t even begin to describe all of the major problems and issues of this move (announced earlier this year but beginning to be implemented now). I think the right metaphor sounds something like this: after they realizing they had closed the barn door sans horses, the AP is going to where the horses are and attempting to build a new barn around their current position. Their next announcement has to be the invention of time travel which will allow them to go back to the point in time where internet practices and customs were being formed, insert their business model, and destroy this future free internet content timeline.

All kidding aside, there are some immediate concerns. First, while they have given assurances that no private information will be gathered, how can this be guaranteed? There is no denying the fact that a little piece of digital code is reporting information about a reader back to a centralized information center. (I’m sure that privacy advocates will have a field day with that one.) Second, what amount of web traffic constitutes the need for a site to obtain a license? While they have indicated that they are not interested in going after bloggers, their actions in the past have indicated otherwise. (And their announcement that even “minimal use” would require a license is not very convincing.) Third, what about web tagging sites like Delicious and Diigo? Does the sharing of links through these third party sites constitutes a need for licensing (for me or for the site)? Could aggregations of AP stories through these sites be considered a trigger condition for licensing? Fourth, what exactly does this mean for search engines? While the major players in the search engine field have licenses with the AP, how will their content control affect the results of a search? (On a related note, if I was an AP shareholder, I would be asking how this would not drive news content consumers to use other wire services such as the CNN, the BBC, and Reuters?)

The big looming issue here is that of copyright and fair use. As a librarian, I really can’t see how the AP is going to do an end run around fair use. Titles are not copyright protected and the use of a fraction of the total words of an article does not create a copyright breach. While I can appreciate and understand their desire to protect what they have created, it is not the way to do it in this business and computer culture environment. (I couldn’t even find one article that applauded this move for this post.)

We live in a connection culture where information and ideas are passed from person to person through links. And the more links you have to something, the more likely it is to be seen by others. Taking away those links is lowering the chances of your content being seen and passed to others. When companies are making billions of dollars through linking, why would you restrict or confiscate the very things that drive traffic and revenue? It makes no sense in light of other free content examples. (e.g. New York Times.) It’ll be interesting to see how it does play out, but I have a feeling I know how this one ends.

This is not the last call for the end of free content on the Internet. But it should be the last call for companies to stop trying to apply 20th century solutions to 21st century issues.