Wednesday, November 21, 2007

On electronic publishing, copyright, and digital rights management

The introduction of the Amazon book reader, the Kindle, has spawned a flurry of blog posts. One that piqued my interest is The Future of Reading (A Play in Six Acts), which examines the implications of digital rights management in the ebook realm by contrasting quotes from Jeff Bezos, Richard Stallman, the Kindle terms of service, and others. The comments echo the usual arguments about how DRM is necessary, else the entire publishing infrastructure will collapse economically, and so on. Interestingly, as some readers point out, there is at least one publisher who is successfully publishing e-books with no DRM and apparently making a profit at it.

That publisher is Baen Books. The editor of the e-magazine Jim Baen's Universe, Eric Flint, is writing a column, "Salvos against Big Brother", on copyright, DRM, and why he believes that current trends in both are hurting readers, (most) authors and publishers. You can find the entire list on his "author page" at the magazine, but they're mixed in with a bunch of other stuff. In order, here are his articles:

A Matter of Principle, introducing the series.

Copyright: What Are the Proper Terms for the Debate?, discussing the history of copyright, its original intentions, and how many of the current issues were debated over 150 years ago.

McCauley on Copyright, the text of two speeches given in Parliament in 1841. In Eric Flint's words, "They are, no other word for it, brilliant—and cover everything fundamental which is involved in the issue."

Copyright: How Long Should It Be?

What is Fair Use

Lies, and More Lies, wherein he debunks the claims

The advent of digital media makes it so effortless to copy an intellectual creator's work that traditional notions of "fair use" have to be abandoned. In today's world, any sort of "fair use" will inexorably and inevitably lead to wholesale violation of copyright.

Therefore, fair use must be banned entirely—or, at a bare minimum, have tremendous restrictions placed on it.

There Ain't No Such Thing as a Free Lunch, addressing the question "Is it true that modern electronic devices have made copyright infringement "so effortless" that it has become—or threatens to become—a serious menace to legitimate copyright owners?" His answer is, "No."

In Books: The Opaque Market, Eric turns the issue around, "examining the many ways in which a non-DRM approach to electronic publishing can help the situation of authors and publishers."

Spillage: or, The Way Fair Use Works in Favor of Authors and Publishers, continues examining the issues raised in the previous essay.

The Economics of Writing addresses some objections to the theses posed in the previous two essays.

The most recent essay, The Pig-in-a-Poke Factor, continues the argument from The Economics of Writing.

I'm sure that Eric is not done with this topic, so you might want to bookmark Baen's Universe and check back every couple of months for the next installment.


Anonymous said...

Interesting! I viewed the invention from a totally different perspective. I teach the visually impaired, and I immediately thought that this would be another way for my kiddos to read (along with books on tape/CD). Getting anything transcribed into Braille takes months--literally. So anything that can get the information to them faster makes me happy. But, I hadn't thought of it from the viewpoint of copyright and such.

PoeticaL said...

I personally own a Sony E-book reader. Bought the first released version in Nov 06. I love it. I download free classic novels and the prices on Sony Connect are not as high as constantly reported. Everytime someone quotes a price, it's wrong. Also, I enjoy the Sony because I can download any .rtf word file onto my device for free. Sure I have to plug it in, but c'mon I also have to plug in my Ipod, that doesn't stop millions of people from using them.

I am mostly always annoyed at how much the public fights this technology and most of them aren't true readers. No smart person wants to read an entire freaking book on a PDA or tied to an actual desktop or laptop. I've read dozens of novels on my Sony and enjoy it. It's a simple to use device for "READING". I don't want to go online on my book reader. I enjoy the easy on the eyes e-ink technology screen and that is what I paid all that money for. For me, an avid reader, it was truly worth it.

I enjoyed your article. I'm passionate about seeing e-book technology improve. I do not much care for amazon's issues but I'm excited that they got on board because it will take giants to make it happen properly one day.

When anyone see's my e-book reader they are instantly enthralled by it and want to hold it and read on it. I invite anyone to go into any Borders bookstore and touch one themselves. The important thing to note is the screen and just how amazing it is.

I'm a person that doens't want color. What I want is for e-book formats to be the same across the board. For books to be cheaper because we're not killing trees. But I'm not against paying $14.99 if it means the author gets paid and someone makes money. I don't care, I just want to enjoy reading on a convenient device that allows me to carry dozens of books in a 9 oz. size.

Sony is ahead in design. Kindle is ahead in "some" features.