Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Books, E-Books, and Theft--Very Confusing

My collection of articles on copyright issues, the public domain, open source materials, and digital rights management (DRM) continues to spill over here from my work Website. Here are some discussions of "digital book piracy," as opposed to the offline pirates at the library.

Sherman Alexie has been very vocal about electronic formats for books, but I'm not sure I understand his position. Clearly, he wants to retain ownership of his works, because he derives a decent living from their sale. I can't object to that. We all want to live, and we all would prefer meaningful work. But that's a copyright issue--ebooks are subject to the same copyright laws as print books. He doesn't want his books available in digital format, but several of them are available--his publisher made that decision, just as the publisher chose cover art, fonts, formats, and all the other production details. Is he unhappy with his publisher? Maybe so--many authors are.

On the one hand, he's worried that ereaders and ebooks are "elitist," too expensive for poor kids like the one he used to be. On the other hand, he's worried about book stores being driven out of business, and book stores were too expensive for the kid I used to be (and the old lady I am now--I seldom buy a new book, and the copyrighted ebooks are too expensive for me to consider. I'm a loyal customer of Project Gutenberg.).

I don't even understand his testimonial about print books: " And all of my senses-sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste--come into play when I think and read about books. Books are tactile and eccentric..." I've always been a scrounger of odd books at the back of the library, or at the estate sale, or the used book store, and the books I've enjoyed the most have not always been a delight for the senses of smell and taste. My EZReader's copies of Dickens smell much better than the print copies, and they are easier to read, as I can control the page contrast and the font size and shape. Maybe Mr. Alexie will think differently when he reaches that age where all the typefaces get so small.

Most of the intellectual property I have produced belongs to the universities, the government, or the research institutes who payed me a salary while I produced it. This is probably why I like the Open Source ideas and products so much, and feel that the Internet should be more like a free library than like a cable TV channel. And whether it's in print or in electronic form, it's always possible to Steal This Book. (Google Books will let you read the first 45 pages for free, but if you want to read the rest, you'll have to buy it from one of the vendors they list. Ironic, no?)

Here are some discussions of book piracy, ebooks, and a bit about digital rights management:

  • A post from the MobileRead forum: Author Sherman Alexie Wants to Punch You in the Face:

    At a panel of authors speaking mainly to independent booksellers, Sherman Alexie, the National Book Award-winning author of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, said he refused to allow his novels to be made available in digital form. He called the expensive reading devices "elitist" and declared that when he saw a woman sitting on the plane with a Kindle on his flight to New York, "I wanted to hit her."

    ....[W]hen given a chance to correct himself on his own blog, the only thing he apologizes for is the idea of hitting a woman; "I should have edited myself. I should have said, "I saw a man on the airplane reading a Kindle and I wanted to hit him." In this way, my joke becomes about my true object of fear, distrust, and anger---the Kindle---and not about the gender of the person reading the Kindle."

  • Later, Sherman Alexie Clarifies "Elitist" Charges:
    People are eager to portray me as being anti-technology, but that's not the case at all. I think the iPod is as vital as the fork and wheel. So I'm not even sure why I have this strange, subterranean fear and loathing of the Kindle and its kind....I rose out of poverty and incredible social dysfunction because of books. And all of my senses-sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste--come into play when I think and read about books. Books are tactile and eccentric. An eBook will always be a gorgeous but anonymous box. It will also be just a tool--perhaps an amazing and useful tool--but I don't want it to replace the book. And I'm worried that many people don't care about the book itself, and see the eBook as a replacement. And I'm worried that Amazon and other eBook distributors will completely replace bookstores....face-to-face interaction will become more and more rare. Sure, the Internet can launch careers, but there is a loss of intimacy that should be acknowledged and mourned.
  • And later still: Digital piracy hits the e-book industry:

    "I'd be really worried if I were Stephen King or James Patterson or a really big bestseller that when their books become completely digitized, how easy it's going to be to pirate them," said novelist and poet Sherman Alexie on Stephen Colbert's show last month.

    "With the open-source culture on the Internet, the idea of ownership -- of artistic ownership -- goes away," Alexie added. "It terrifies me."

    ....However, some evidence suggests that authors' and publishers' claims of damage from illegal piracy may be overstated. Recent statistics have shown that consumers who purchase an e-reader buy more books than those who stick with traditional bound volumes. Amazon reports that Kindle owners buy, on average, 3.1 times as many books on the site as other customers.

    Ana Maria Allessi, publisher for Harper Media at HarperCollins, told CNN, "we have to be vigilant in our punishment ... but much more attractive is to simply make the technology better, legally." E-book technology offers so many positives for both the author and the consumer that any revenue lost to piracy may just be a necessary evil, she said. "Consumers who invest in one of these dedicated e-book readers tend to load it up and read more," said Allessi. "And what's wrong with that?"

  • E-Book Piracy: The Publishing Industry's Next Epic Saga?

    While publishing e-books protected by DRM seems like a no-brainer solution to piracy, the idea has faced criticism from within the publishing industry and from consumers. First, publishers are weary of reports that the DRM technology used in the Kindle and the Sony Reader has been hacked, says Nick Bogaty, an expert in DRM technology for Adobe. Second, consumers are hesitant to buy digital books with inflexible DRM that ties an e-book to a limited number of e-readers.

    Critics say that the two providers of DRM-protected e-books, Amazon and Adobe, are stunting the e-book industry's progress. For instance, Amazon's Kindle uses its own DRM-restricted AZW e-book format. People who purchase an e-book on their Kindle cannot transfer it for reading on another, competing e-book reader from a different company.

    DRM issues get thornier when device makers, such as Amazon, start negotiating exclusive e-publishing rights for their product. Amazon signed a deal with best-selling business writer Stephen R. Covey to publish several of his books, including The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and Principle-Centered Leadership, exclusively for the Kindle. The company has also negotiated exclusive rights for Kindle e-books from author Stephen King and for a biography of First Lady Michelle Obama.

    The idea of exclusive e-book rights tied to devices seems as annoying as being allowed to play a particular new CD only on a certain company's CD players. But Ian Fried, the vice president of Amazon Kindle, has stated that Kindle consumers don't mind its DRM. That could change, however, as a predicted flood of new, rival e-readers hit the market in 2010, and Kindle owners think about jumping ship--only to discover that they can't take their e-books with them. Remember the backlash against DRM-protected content in Apple's iTunes store?

    Bogaty points out that Adobe, whose DRM technology is used by Sony and Barnes & Noble, is yielding to critics who say that its antipiracy technology is too restrictive. Adobe is loosening the grip of its DRM, allowing users to share e-books with friends and to read books on up to 12 different devices (6 desktop and 6 handheld).


Reya Mellicker said...

I think that issues like the one you describe in your post are symptoms of a changing economy. Retail ain't retail anymore, and things that were once only available to those who could afford them are now available to almost everyone.

It's an interesting shift, kind of unnerving, but really fascinating.

Hey are you getting lots of snow? Here we've had FOUR measurable snowfalls, and are supposed to get another big storm of the weekend. Wow.

Rebecca Clayton said...

Are we ever getting snow! Since November, it's been so snowy or icy or both that it's really difficult doing anything outdoors. Cabin fever is a reality.