Richard Stallman, who bridles to see the idealistic purity of his free-software philosophy debased into the more pragmatic open-source movement, can be a prickly character. But I find myself agreeing with some of his concerns about e-books.
In a piece titled "The Danger of E-books" (PDF), Stallman bemoans the e-book’s loss of freedoms that most of us take for granted with physical books and places the blame on corporate powers.
"Technologies that could have empowered us are used to chain us instead," he said. "We must reject e-books until they respect our freedom…E-books need not attack our freedom, but they will if companies get to decide. It’s up to us to stop them."
This sounds like a good supporting piece for the eBook Reader’s Bill of Rights even if it takes the extreme vantage point. I’ve been thinking about that piece lately; it’s been about four months since Sarah and I released it upon the internet. It got a lot of coverage within the online librarian community and managed to hop outside it in a couple of places (BoingBoing being one of the bigger hops out). But, while it had initial spark, it has failed to catch on in larger continuing conversations regarding eBooks. Perhaps it is a bit too radical in its reach; perhaps it doesn’t go far enough in addressing the larger cultural and societal attitudes towards the treatment of electronic content.
I guess it boils down to who do we as a society trust with written content. From the manuscript to the final product to the marketplace, there are many current barriers in existence that can prevent a book from reaching its final destination in the hands of the reader. Is it only when it reaches the final step, in the hands of the consumer by right of the First Sale Doctrine or the licensing agreement of eBook sellers, that is the true point of controversy? Will there be an “ownership awakening” in which consumers will reject licensing and demand ownership rights or else? Perhaps not, but certain food for thought for your comments.