Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Cory's kindle concerns

Copyfighter novelist Cory Doctorow wonders aloud why doesn't apply the same trusting business practices to its digital wares it does to physical objects. Full article in The Guardian Unlimited here -- and an excerpt:

Amazon can change your ebooks without notifying you or getting your permission; and if you violate any of the "agreement", it can delete your ebooks, even if you've paid for them, and you get no appeal.

It's not just the Kindle, either. Amazon Unbox, the semi-abortive video download service, shipped with terms of service that included your granting permission for Amazon to install any software on your computer, to spy on you, to delete your videos, to delete any other file on your hard drive, to deny you access to your movies if you lose them in a crash. This comes from the company that will cheerfully ship you a replacement DVD if you email them and tell them that the one you just bought never turned up in the post.

Critics of my call for strong copyright may be surprised to hear that I share Doctorow's wistful bafflement over Amazon's digital business model. It certainly does seem they've gone a little slap-happy with the technological locking devices, and I anticipate a future in which Amazon sells fewer than hoped for Kindles and e-books under these terms and with these technological conditions.

Unlike Doctorow, though, I am not at all confused as to why Amazon would try to run its digital show like this. They do it, I imagine, because they're not quite sure what else to do. Accepting that a single physical copy of a book can be lent or resold, as Amazon and every other publishing related professional should do, does nothing to threaten the traditional writing and publishing business model. In fact, all audience-building devices such as limited lending and sharing can only be good for the book world in the long run. What would not be good for the business model of the book world is unlimited lending and sharing without a compensatory mechanism of any kind attached. Amazon locks up its e-books, for now, because it fears this unlimited lending and sharing.

Should they fear it? No, I don't think so. I think the mass of consumers can be trusted to respect copyright and the need for compensation that encourages continued creativity in a market-based economy, eventually.

Key words:

Trust -- Amazon needs to learn to trust its customers to do the right thing.

Respect -- Amazon's customers must respect copyright.

One won't work without the other -- and this is kind of a chicken and egg scenario. Not one of these key words comes first -- they both must happen at once.

Should we pass laws that remove Amazon's ability to make the kind of mistake it's making by alienating its own customers. Why would we do that? Strong copyright, including the right to lock your stuff away from your customers, is about giving the limited rights holders the freedom to choose their business model, even if it's one that won't work. At the moment, Doctorow and I agree, Amazon is probably choosing the wrong one. I have faith the market will send them an appropriate message.

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