TCLP 2012-10-28 How This Hacker Sees ebooks

This is a feature cast, an episode of The Command Line Podcast.

As I explain in the intro, this podcast is the first produced entirely on my brand new system, from ZaReason.

There is no hacker word of the week this week.

The feature this week is a new installment in the How This Hacker Sees.. series (which still wants for a dedicate bumper and music) on the subject of ebooks. In it, I mention EPUBReader, O’Reilly Media, No Starch Press, Manning, Baen, Tor, HBR, and Story Bundle.


View the detailed show notes online. You can grab the flac encoded audio from the Internet Archive.

Creative Commons License

A Renewed Plea for Moving Beyond DRM and Incompatibilities in eBooks

Joe Wikert at O’Reilly clearly articultes a view I’ve held for some time, that we need ebook interoperability that is entirely comparable to that of MP3’s for digital music. The use of DRM by the larger ebook stores has certainly kept me from even contemplating a dedicated reader as much as I am increasingly attracted by the promised advantages.

Imagine buying a car that locks you into one brand of fuel. A new BMW, for example, that only runs on BMW gas. There are plenty of BMW gas stations around, even a few in your neighborhood, so convenience isn’t an issue. But if one of those other gas stations offers a discount, a membership program, or some other attractive marketing campaign, you can’t participate. You’re locked in with the BMW gas stations.

This could never happen, right? Consumers are too smart to buy into something like this. Or are they? After all, isn’t that exactly what’s happening in the ebook world? You buy a dedicated ebook reader like a Kindle or a NOOK and you’re locked in to that company’s content. Part of this problem has to do with ebook formats (e.g., EPUB or Mobipocket) while another part of it stems from publisher insistence on the use of digital rights management (DRM).

Wikert goes on to re-visit the problems inherent in the current ebook market in a coherent and I think compelling fashion. It is worth noting that O’Reilly, who re-posted this piece from Publishers Weekly, is one of the few publisher from whom I regularly buy ebooks exactly because they support all the popular formats and have never used DRM.

I simply will not buy into another platform that has an intentional switching cost built in. I possess the technical experience and skills to exercise what I believe to be fair use in the form of personal copies and format shifting. That doesn’t change how I feel even if that means I still have to live with the limitations of paper books as an avid reader, both for pleasure and for my profession. I would love nothing more than to have my entire non-fiction library always at my fingertips with quick lookup and digital notes to add in my research, writing and other work.

It is more important to me to set a visible example and to keep pushing for a legitimate means to exert my preferences, especially with my purchasing dollar. If I buy DRM’ed or otherwise platform locked titles, I fear it sends the wrong message, that I find this situation acceptable when I clearly do not.

It’s time for a unified ebook format and the end of DRM, O’Reilly Radar

The eBook Reader’s Bill of Rights

A couple of sources linked to Sarah Houghton-Jan’s bill of rights, no doubt inspired by Harper Collins changing its terms of service for the ebooks it has licensed to libraries to limit the total number of allowed loans per title.

In sharing this bill of rights in its entirety (it is released under a CC0 license), Audrey Watters at ReadWriteWeb is far more conservative than we should be, still wondering if DRM is a necessary evil. It is the only mechanism that publishers and other content distributors have earnestly tried, I don’t think that qualifies it as the sum total of the question we should be considering in response to Houghton-Jan’s thoughts. As Watters and other contributors to RWW have explored recently, making libraries viable in the post-network, post-digital era without imploding the sources of sustained creation on which they rely is a complex challenge. The responses should be equally as sophisticated not the sheer monotonous monopole that is DRM.

Cory over at BoingBoing is understandably more supportive. It is Doctorow’s Law, after all, that cautions author’s against acceding to DRM as being against their best interests. He also is responsible for some of the kinds of experimentation that really is required to meet the tough challenges publishing and libraries face. Doctorow manages to embrace the network and digital formats by giving his work away yet at the same time supporting both his publisher and libraries. The latter is done through the simple but effective program where he connects readers who are entirely satisfied with his free editions yet want to support his work with libraries and schools that can benefit from the donation of print copies.

(I also agree with Cory that “reader” is a more poetic and apt label than the rather pedestrian word, “user”.)

I do not think it is any coincidence that the bill of rights follows very closely in the spirit of the four freedoms of Free Software. Indulging the CC0 license of the original, I’ve re-posted the entirety after the link and attribution, below.

The eBook User’s Bill of Rights, Librarian in Black

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.

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.

feeds | grep links > Circumventing Chinese Censors on a Kindle, Open Flash Tool Now Closed, Faced Detection for Web Apps, and More

  • Kindle allowing bypass of Chinese censoring firewall
    Slashdot points to an interesting use for the otherwise not very freedom friendly device. Apparently, however the 3G service is provided locally in China, it isn’t being subjected to the same censorship as regular net access. I tend to agree with Professor Kwan’s interpretation, that those in charge of the firewall simply don’t realize the Kindle can be used for anything other than buying and reading books.
  • Adobe temporarily closes their Flex SDK
    According to a conversation with the product manager initiated by The Register, the public source code repository and patch submission for Flex will be closed for a couple of releases. This stems from the fact that while the tool itself, used for creating Flash and AIR apps, is open, the platform is closed. In order to build against the un-released new versions of closed platform components, it is necessary to also close Flex. This demonstrates one considerable risk of working with a set of tools that isn’t all open.
  • Face detection with HTML5 and JavaScript
    Klint Finley at ReadWriteWeb describes a new library that the developer sees as helping with automatically tagging photos online. Even if it doesn’t evolve from face detection to full on recognition, you could easily see how a distributed, in browser trick like this could be effectively coupled with crowd intelligence to allow web applications to offer almost as good identity based tags. I think it is far more interesting to consider how the library might open up compelling, novel interactions with web applications based on a user’s movements and orientation in space. That avenue of thought is less concerning from a privacy perspective, too.
  • Publisher sells DRM-free ebooks to libraries , BoingBoing
  • OpenBSD 4.8 released, Slashdot