Thursday, June 10, 2010

reader & writer chat some more about e-books

Based on some of the comments from my last posting, my reader and writer selves have continued their conversation about e-books. They are also really hoping a lawyer shows up at some point to help explain some of the implications for writers (and readers) of the new user exceptions in C-32:

Writer: Hold on there, Reader, have you checked out the Terms of Use on that Kobo device you bought?

Reader: Oh sure, just like I've read every word of my car's warranty. What's your point?

Writer: Well, it says here “You may not separate any individual component of the Device Software for use on another device or another computer, may not transfer it for use on another device or use it, or any portion of it, over a network and may not sell, rent, lease, lend, distribute or sublicense or otherwise assign any rights to the Software in whole or in part.”

Reader: Okay... and since I don’t want to do any of those things, I’m cool with that.

Writer: But it says lend. You can’t lend!

Reader: I can’t lend the software. Who “lends” software anyway? Isn’t that sort of the same as giving away an unauthorized copy of software?

Writer: Yeah, sort of like me walking into a bookstore, picking up a copy of The Bishop’s Man and “lending” it to you. Seems kind of funny they even include that prohibition in their Terms of Use. It’s a no-brainer.

Reader: So, I can still lend the book, as long as I’m lending the e-reader with it?

Writer: I don’t see anything in here that would stop you. Just a bunch of stuff about selling, renting, leasing, distributing or broadcasting.

Reader: Why would I do that stuff?

Writer: Well, selling… I don’t know. You sell old books from time to time, don’t you?

Reader: Actually, no, I give my old books away, but I see your point. Not much room here for a used digital book store to open up.

Writer: Of course, if the prices for e-books stay the same, there’s little point to a used store, since the new product is so darned affordable.

Wait a second – here’s something nasty.

Reader: What now?

Writer: It says here that Kobo is going to be tracking what you read, when you read it and even what you think about it.

Reader: What?

Writer: It’s all right here. Look – “The Device Software when connected to your computer will provide Kobo with data about your Device and its interaction with the Service and information related to the content on your Device and your use of it (such as automatic bookmarking of the last page read and content deletions from the Device). Annotations, bookmarks, notes, highlights, or similar markings you make in your Device and other information you provide may be stored on servers in Canada. Information we receive is subject to the Privacy Policy.

Man, it’s like Nineteen Eighty-Four or some equally terrifying dystopian future. Your device there is like some sort of wiretap Kobo can use to spy on you and your reading habits. I don't know, dude, I feel an evil wind rising.

Reader: Calm down, calm down, you're not writing a teenage vampire saga here. Doesn't Kobo already know what book I’m reading? I sort of told them what I was reading when I bought the book from them, didn’t I?

Writer: But, what if you want to make notes, or highlight anything. They’ll know what you find interesting. I'm really thinking it's time to start running into the streets screaming.

Reader: Well, first of all, this device doesn’t let me highlight or make notes, and the only bookmarking it does is to the last page read. It’s really low-tech, which is part of why I like it. Second of all, if I’m going to make notes while reading, I’ll write them with a pen in a paper notebook. I assume Kobo can’t see into my notebook?

Writer: Still, don’t you find that whole server stuff a bit creepy?

Reader: Creepier than Google photographing my house and putting it on the Internet? Creepier than “recommending” a new book to me based on my previous purchases? No, I’d say my Kobo is a whole lot less creepy than those two things.

Writer: Good point. But, I don't know, it still seems too restrictive to me. What if you decide later on to buy a Kindle instead? You'd have to buy your whole library over again.

Reader: Because those books would be different if I read them over again on a Kindle?

Writer: um...

Reader: I don't see the problem. First of all, if I buy a Kobo, I probably won't buy a Kindle. What am I, some sort of tech-gadget sucker who needs to get every new thing as soon as it comes out? How many e-readers does one person need? Second of all, if I do go ahead and get a Kindle later on, then I'll read Kindle books on that device, and keep the Kobo to reread any of my old Kobo books later on.

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Pieter Hulshoff said...

Dear John,

I guess I could go write an alternative story that points out all the bad things that could be done using TPM/DRM by a copyright holder or perhaps one with a customer who does actually want to do some of these things you wave away, but I'm not going to bother. Simply try to rewrite your story for dvd/blu-ray, and you might get the drift anyway. So, just a few remarks:

No, you can't lend your e-reader along with your book, because when you lend your e-reader you lend the software on the e-reader, and as was already pointed out to you, and used by you in your story: you're not allowed to do that.

"Second of all, if I do go ahead and get a Kindle later on, then I'll read Kindle books on that device, and keep the Kobo to reread any of my old Kobo books later on."

Unfortunately, your Kobo device is unlikely to live past it's 10th birthday, and might very well not be available again afterwards. The devices you can buy on the market by that time are unlikely to support the format used by the publishers for the Kobo at the moment, so yes: you do have to rebuy your entire collection if you want to continue to enjoy them. It's exactly what happened to at least 3 DRM based music services in the USA in the last few years.

Anonymous said...

When you buy a book from Kobo, it is party of your library. You will never lose it.

Even if the Kobo eReader gets run over by a truck and you get a new one, you click 'sync' and you get all your books back WITH all your bookmarks. (as long as you synced before it got ran over by the truck :)

Kobo collects info about which page you're on to do exactly that, to save your bookmarks in the 'cloud' so that if you happen to open up the Kobo app on your iphone, your books, AND your bookmarks are all there.

Also, when Kobo introduced Adobe DRM ePub support, you didn't have to go back and 'rebuy' all your books. Your books just became available in Adobe DRM'd epub as well. If kobo changes their own DRM as well, you will not have to rebuy books. On Kobo you buy once and keep forever.

Pieter Hulshoff said...

That's assuming Kobo doesn't go out of business like those 3 music services did of course.

John said...


What I am attempting to do here is show my own real-world interaction with both the technology and the limitations of the law.

So far, the what-if scenarios and slightly paranoid cautions from the commenters here have been decidedly unconvincing to me as an e-book buyer and reader. I DID do some research on e-books and readers before I settled on the one I wanted to buy. And I AM satisfied with the bargain I'm striking in collecting a small library of e-books through the kobo service.

As an informed consumer, I am satisfied I'm getting my money's worth from this company, and I don't feel in any way restricted by their choice of a branded DRM.

Remember, I'm a professional writer -- if there's anyone who should be concerned with potential fair-dealing restrictions from kobo's DRM on my rights to interact with the texts I have bought, it's me. And I'm not concerned in the least.

Please keep in mind, I tend to interact with content, not software. That's why I asked Russell if maybe he should be concentrating on his own copyright law, and not trying to make my content regulations fit into how he wants his software treated.

For the most part, I think the average consumer in Canada is much more like me than like Russell.

Feel free to write your alternative blog postings about a filmmaker and a film buyer. Maybe try that on your own blog. Right now, I'm looking at e-books.

And I feel perfectly comfortable lending my e-reader to friends and family. I think your interpretation of the software clauses, i.e. that they would prohibit such a scenario, are wrong.

On the other hand, let's not overstate the need for this kind of sharing. The average analog book copy might be genuinely shared twice. The average digital book copy without DRM could and most likely would be "shared" millions of times. It is disingenuous to suggest these two kinds of sharing have anything to do with each other.

John said...

Hi anonymous,

Thanks for the explanation. Why do I have the feeling you work for kobo? And if you do, please feel free to disclose. As I've mentioned, I am experimenting with the device, and so far have been very happy with the results.

As well, whenever I do run into a snag, I've been able to get immediate help and resolution from the company, most recently over their Twitter feed.

Darryl said...

"The average digital book copy ,[with or]without DRM could and most likely would be "shared" millions of times. "

There fixed it for ya again. John you have stop making such careless mistakes. Either that, or you are under the false impression that DRM is some sort of magic software that will keep this stuff from being shared on the Internet. It wont. One only has to look at how quickly BluRay was cracked to see that. Any HD BluRay movie you want is yours for the taking on the Internet. In order for DRM to be effective it has to be 100% effective or it is worthless. One person in the entire world can totally undermine its effectiveness.

For the rest of us it merely undermines our fair use and private property rights. You might be able to rationalize this if it had any measure of effectiveness, but it doesn't.

What it does do is deny us our fair use rights, so that the publishers can then sell them back to us. That is what the DRM provisions of C-32 does. Talk about legalized theft.

John said...


Why would anyone buy a Kobo e-book and then feel the need to break the DRM and distribute copies over the Internet? As you can see from my discussions, Kobo is very consumer-friendly and have answered all my concerns (and even all of your concerns) about accessibility. If you are buying a book from Kobo, you have signed on to Kobo and have made access choices (e-reader, iPhone, laptop).

The only reason, then, for someone to break their DRM and distribute the file over the Internet is that the DRM-breaker is a content pirate, intent on making a marketable copyrighted work available for free against the express wishes of the copyright holder. I'm not sure why you would want a law that allows that.

I'd rather have a law that prohibits that, to protect a valid market for good-faith copyright holders like the publishers and writers doing business with Kobo.

How does Kobo's DRM undermine your private property rights? If you don't want a copy of the book with Kobo's DRM on it, don't buy the book from Kobo.

Darryl said...

[sigh] John, I was correcting your statement which implied DRM was in any way effective at preventing piracy. As usual, you completely missed it. Since you're response did not address that central point, then I will assume you agree.

If DRM is incapable of preventing piracy, then the only function it can serve beyond that is to enforce the terms of an arbitrary and decidedly one sided contract upon those who would submit to it. What's worse is that there is no obligation for the publishers to reveal the terms of this contract, or even tell you that there is a contract.

I know you say, that people make informed decisions as consumers and have to live up to the terms they agree to when they purchase the goods. You present yourself as a typical consumer, but I submit that typical consumers have no idea the DVDs have DRMs, and therefore do not make these informed decisions. Also if ebooks and music follow the same path as DVDs, (quite likely with this bill) then ALL cultural works in digital form will be hampered by these digital restrictions. In this case your advise of simply not buying would require a complete withdrawal from digital society. That hardly seems reasonable.

This of course only deals with the DRM on the works, and does not deal with the related DRM on the device. When I buy a piece of hardware, it is mine! I should be able to do with it what I want. If I were to give up any such rights, then the transaction should not be called a sale, but rather a lease or rental. At the very least, giving up real property rights of control over my own belongings should require an explicit contract, not simply the exchange of money.

[sigh] Sadly, I do not expect you to see why any one would find this offensive. The net result will be you scratching your head in a few years wondering why people still don't respect copyright and continue to share files openly on the Internet.

At some point you will either figure it out or continue calling for stronger and stronger protection measures which never work and further diminish respect for copyright, ad infinitum.

Pieter Hulshoff said...

Dear John,

"What I am attempting to do here is show my own real-world interaction with both the technology and the limitations of the law."

That was my impression too, and the main reason I didn't feel the need to write my own blogpost, and in stead just pointed out a few shortcomings in your story. I'm glad it works out for you, but I hope you can also understand that for many of us it does not work so well.

"I'd rather have a law that prohibits that, to protect a valid market for good-faith copyright holders like the publishers and writers doing business with Kobo."

You do! It's called copyright law, and it's much more effective at preventing this than digital locks could ever be. The digital locks are only broken by the few who actually remove it. Copyright law is broken by those who share it without permission after the lock was removed, including those first few who removed the lock. Protection for digital locks really doesn't add anything here.

"That's why I asked Russell if maybe he should be concentrating on his own copyright law, and not trying to make my content regulations fit into how he wants his software treated."

I don't think Russell's worried about how copyright law applies to software vs books. What he (and I) are worried about is that in your attempt to protect your rights, you manage to make it illegal for us to create. In Europe and the USA it's currently illegal to write an Open Source dvd-player, blu-ray player or iTunes player, because any player decrypts the work, and as such falls afoul of anti-circumvention laws unless they are limited to acts illegal under copyright law.

"And I feel perfectly comfortable lending my e-reader to friends and family. I think your interpretation of the software clauses, i.e. that they would prohibit such a scenario, are wrong."

Actually, my interpretation of the clauses is correct. Whether Kobo would be stupid enough to try and enforce them (and lose a lot of customers in the process) is another matter. Shrink-wrap licenses are not legally enforceable in most countries anyway (just in a few US states as far as I know).

Darryl said...

Hey John, I bought an ebook last night! I looked first for a hardcopy at Chapters, which had never heard of it, and at Amazon which offered me 3 week delivery, and I finally found it at Lulu in PDF format for about half price. I was a little leery that it may have DRM on it, but it said nothing so I took the risk and bought it.

Fortunately, I got lucky and there was no DRM, unlike this guy. So I got immediate access for half price with no artificial restrictions. A no brainer! If all epublishers made their work available this way, the ebook industry might really take off.

This was a programming book I needed immediately for a project. Had it not been available in less than 3 weeks, or as an immediate unencumbered download, I likely would have started looking for it at various torrent sites. Had DRM been present, not only would they not have made this sale, but they likely would have contributed to the piracy of their own product. Fortunately the authors are Linux developers, so I guess they just naturally know better. :-)

I've bought many 'ebooks' online in the past. Almost always industry specs of sort or another and always as an unencumbered PDF. The one and only time I ever bought music, I was tricked into buying some DRM garbage which I then had to waste a bunch of time fixing so that I could access what I had purchased.

My fear with this Bill is that the lure of new rights granted when DRM is used, will result in digital books and music evolving in the same way as videos, and soon there will not be an option of DRM free material.

P.S. Russell has a nice response to these two blog posts of your.