Wednesday, June 09, 2010

reader & writer after Bill C-32

Bill C-32 is the federal government’s Copyright Modernization Act – proposed legislation designed to update Canada’s Copyright Act. Some like it, most have issues with it, some hate it. What’s more, if you try to get any substantial information or commentary about it, you may find yourself in some pretty weedy reading (I dare anyone to try and get through Michael Geist’s 32 Questions and Answers on C-32's Digital Lock Provisions without several brief naps).

Since so much speculation on C-32 and user rights is abstract and theoretical, I am attempting some real world experimentation for myself. I will share as I go along.

Experiment #1 - Electronic Books

I am both writer and reader, and therefore both creator and user (in standard copyright parlance). I’ve recently sent these two parts of myself out into the digital world to do some reading and writing:

Reader: Hey, look, I bought a Kobo ™ e-reading device!

I still love the look, feel, smell and heft of physical books (and will continue to buy them at my local independent bookseller), but there’s no denying the portability value-add of today’s e-readers. I can take, like, a thousand books with me on vacation. Talk about choice at my fingertips. And the Kobo is Canadian, so I’m standing on guard for thee.

Writer: Cool. I recently asked my publisher to make a Kobo book out of my last novel (well, my only novel – give me a break, it takes a long time to write one of those things). You should go ahead and download my novel.

Reader: Dude, I wrote your last novel. I’m going to download something else. Hey look, 2009 Scotiabank Giller Prize winner Linden MacIntyre’s The Bishop’s Man is in the Kobo store for only $9.99. That’s a 69% savings over the physical book.

Writer: Yikes, that’s some deep discounting. On the other hand, would you have bought the hardcover?

Reader: Probably not – in the physical world, I’m more of a small press and poetry collector, and MacIntyre is decidedly big-publisher mainstream. This is a bonus e-sale Random House is getting from me. It’s not subtracting from their physical sales; it’s adding onto them. $9.99 is a price-point I’m willing to take a digital risk on – it’s less than a beer at a baseball game.

Writer: Okay, so you’re invested to the tune of ten bucks. But doesn’t Kobo’s proprietary formatting restrict you from what you can do with the book? I mean, compared to all the analog things you can do with a physical book, haven’t you lost some rights and functionality in the move to digital? Michael Geist tells me that your e-reader’s digital locks are going to take all those rights and functions away.

Reader: Kobo books come in ePub format, which is pretty open as far as I can tell. I am able to put my own ePub files onto the Kobo device, and also free e-books from the public domain that I’ve downloaded elsewhere. I’m not sure about the fair dealing stuff since I’m so new to this. I see you’re carrying a copy of Bill C-32 in your pocket here. Name me something I should be able to do with my newly purchased e-book, and let’s see.

Writer: Okay, how about making a back-up copy? Section 29.24 says you should be able to make a back-up. You know, in case you drop your Kobo device in the bath and lose all that content.

Reader: A back-up copy? Who makes back-up copies of their physical books? If I dropped the physical book in the bath, I guess I’d just go buy a new book, or get it from the library to finish it. Besides, who e-reads in the bath?

Writer: Look, Michael Geist says you should want a back-up copy, so you should want it. Can you do it?

Reader: Um, yes, easily. When I buy a book from Kobo, I download it to my laptop. Then I transfer it from my laptop to my e-reader, but I can also just read it on my laptop if I want. I can even access the same book and read it on my iPhone just by signing in to my Kobo account. What’s more, I just tried signing into my Kobo account on my sister-in-law’s iPad and found MacIntyre’s book there too. Looks like I can make endless back-up copies – or more accurately, I don’t need a copy, since the book is just available to me when I want it, as long as I sign in. Try that with a physical book.

Writer: Hmmm, that pretty much covers Section 29.22 (format shifting) and even 29.23 (time shifting) as well – you know, unless you wanted to buy a Kindle and read your Kobo books on that.

Reader: Why would I want to do that?

Writer: I don’t know – what if Kobo goes out of business?

Reader: Good point – well, I guess, since Kobo books are ePub format, the books I bought would be easily transferable to another open device. But, yeah, if I bought a Kindle, I’d be locked into the more-restrictive Kindle format, and then what if they went out of business?

Writer: Sounds like a good reason not to buy a Kindle – I mean if you really want to keep a large library of e-books forever. Oh, how about lending The Bishop’s Man? If it were a physical book, you could lend it to me after you read it.

Reader: Did I mention the book costs less than a beer? Do you want to “borrow” some beer as well?

Writer: Yeah, good point. At these prices, I can get my own copy.

Reader: On the other hand, I guess anyone I trusted with my e-reader, laptop, iPhone or Kobo password could borrow any of my e-books easily and legally.

Writer: Wait, I’ve got it – how about standard fair-dealing rights? What if I want to quote from MacIntyre’s book for the purposes of criticism? I am a writer after all. Does that fancy device let you copy and paste?

Reader: No, it doesn’t.

Writer: But that violates my user rights. I need to be able to quote! And look, C-32 gives me parody rights as well. How am I supposed to write The Bishop's Ham if the digital locks won’t let me at the original content?

Reader: Do you still own a pen? You want to quote – quote. You want to make fun – make fun. What do you need copy and paste for?

Hey, does it say there in C-32 that I suddenly have all sorts of new rights to use e-books in education?

Writer: Yes it does – right here in Section 30. Whoa, all sorts of new educational exceptions.

Reader: That’s great for students and teachers – but does that mean MacIntyre gets paid to have his book used in schools, or not?

Writer: Hmmmmm… I think we might need to talk to a lawyer.

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Pieter Hulshoff said...

An interesting read John, but can you write the same about for instance dvds? Our point has never been that it's impossible for a rightsholder to limit the DRM to reasonable rights, but that many rightsholders will be tempted to limit the rights as much as they can get away with.

Jack said...

I like this approach, John. Your Reader has at least one fact wrong about EPUB and Kobo, but his mistake is a telling one.

Vanilla unencrypted EPUB is an open standard, and those files are endlessly transferable. Files delivered by Kobo use the Adobe Content Server DRM system, which is proprietary. (It has to be!)

If Kobo were to go out of business, one of a few things could happen. The most likely case would be that they would simply pull the plug on their DRM servers, causing all of their customers to lose most kinds of access to all of their purchased content. There is the chance that Indigo itself would assume responsibility for those licenses and continue to run the servers, but that seems unlikely. Responsibility for those licenses could also be transferred to a former competitor of Kobo's, such as Sony, which offers much of the same content using their own instance of the same DRM system. Finally, as has happened in some cases, Kobo could provide its customers with DRM-free copies of everything they've bought. This would mean renegotiating terms with all of its content providers: a pretty daunting task for an organization on its way out.

I'm personally comfortable buying from Kobo because I think they're showing enough promise to be around for the long haul, and I love their cloud-based and platform-independent approach. I save a few dollars by using them and don't have any profound expectation of reading that content annually for the next forty years. Their choice of EPUB and Adobe Content Server is a cure for many interoperability woes, but it isn't a panacea for someone who wants to hang on to their books forever.

Darryl said...

Interesting device.

They admit it runs linux, yet their terms of service has numerous restrictions on the software.

You may use the Device Software only on the Device and your computer. 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.

I wonder if this is consistent with the GPL. I haven't tried to get the kernel from them, but then I don't have a right to ask as I did not purchase this device.

Also John I'd be very careful about lending out your kobo reader to anyone, whether you trust them or not. Kobo, obviously doesn't, as the terms above specifically prohibit you from lending this device to anyone. The penalty of course is that you lose access to everything you bought without any financial compensation.

As well there is this scary term in their TOS

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.

So they can track all your reading habits, and even TAKE your annotations, and notes.

So their you go, I think this experiment is an epic failure. You can't lend your kobo to anyone, they can monitor and retain all your private notes in the device, and as already said, you are married to their DRM system, so if you decide later that you'd rather have a kindle... well, have fun repurchasing your whole library all over again.

John said...

New rule on the blog. You may only use the expression "epic failure" if you are, in fact, a teenager.

Gnarly, dudes.

Anonymous said...

I don't suppose you'll ever be able to fully integrate that split personality John, not even the passage of an appropriately amended C-32 can prevent the tragic (not epic) failure of your two sides lacking the pure spite that characterizes most of the debate on the issues. Alas and alack...

Sandy Crawley