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Why Your e-Books Are No Longer Yours 295

Predictions Market sends us to Gizmodo for an interesting take on the question: when you "buy" "content" for Amazon's Kindle or the Sony Reader, are you buying a crippled license to intellectual property when you download, or are you buying a book? If the latter, then the first sale doctrine, which lets you hawk your old Harry Potter hardcovers on eBay, would apply. Some law students at Columbia took a swing at the question and Gizmodo reprints the "surprisingly readable" legal summary. Short answer: those restrictive licenses may very well be legal, and even if you had rights under the first sale doctrine, you might only be able to resell or give away your Kindle — not a copy of the work.
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Why Your e-Books Are No Longer Yours

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  • by StreetStealth ( 980200 ) on Saturday March 22, 2008 @10:05PM (#22833364) Journal
    That's all very well and good, but legal protections do you little good when technological measures in the market are present to prevent you from exercising whatever rights may be in question. Even if the supreme court says sometime next year "Ok, you can totally resell digital files you paid for!" the downloads in your Kindle are still trapped there, bound either by arcane cryptographic systems, the DMCA, or, as it stands now, both.
  • by Whuffo ( 1043790 ) on Saturday March 22, 2008 @10:10PM (#22833382) Homepage Journal
    Copyright was intended to provide a compromise between the needs of those creating works, and the needs of the public. The deal was that we'd give the authors a monopoly for a limited time in exchange for them releasing their works to the public domain.

    What's happened since is that the creators sold out to corporations and the corporations have been throwing their weight around with our lawmakers. The term of copyright has been extended and re-extended to the point where virtually nothing is entering the public domain anymore. They've even filed (and received) copyrights on things that were previously in the public domain.

    Not satisfied with their greedy taking of the public domain, they decided to move on to getting paid multiple times for the same thing. Enter "digital rights management" and such travesties as the DMCA. That effectively puts an end to the first sale doctrine and completes the process of locking up all "intellectual property" (interesting phrase, isn't it?) and completely eliminates any possibility of anything entering the public domain.

    The deal was that we'd give them a exclusive right over the works for a limited time in exchange for them releasing the works to the public domain. Our corporate government has eliminated the need for the rights holders to release their works to the public domain, so the deal is broken. They don't deserve their exclusive right over the work either; the deal is broken, remember?

    This will all work out in the long term, our corporate masters will do their utmost to spin this into something that's supposedly good for us. But we're not fooled, are we?

  • by timmarhy ( 659436 ) on Saturday March 22, 2008 @10:40PM (#22833488)
    I like the idea of making them pay property tax on it if they continue to insist on calling it property.

    not only that but make it law that they can declare what ever value they like for their IP, BUT anyone can purchase it from them for that price.

    so they can give a true value for their IP, get all the protections of regular property in exchange for paying tax on it.

    the current setup is a total free fucking ride for so called IP companys.

  • by fermion ( 181285 ) on Saturday March 22, 2008 @10:52PM (#22833536) Homepage Journal
    When I bough a record I had the 'right' to copy that record onto tape and other medium, and, normally, I kept the record as a backup. I could in fact sell the original item, under the assumption, not always true, that I did not keep the copies The same is true for CDs. I do not think anything in the constitution or copyright law gives me the right to sell the copies and keep the original or vis versa, though I know many people did. Likewise giving copies to friends was not protected behavior, but it happened.

    With the VHS tape, we are not so lucky. Though VHS was relatively easy to copy, people want to put you in jail for ripping a DVD. Madness. Waste of police enforcement resources. But people are happy because frankly, in inflation adjusted terms, movies are comparatively cheap now, unless you pay the early adopter fee. In addition, studios add original content to DVDs so it not just the same old stale product.

    What I can't understand is how they expect to move towards downloaded movies, that cost more than a DVD and has less content, or ebooks that have nothing but restrictions. It is not that first sale doctrine should necessarily apply. We are not buying a physical product, at least not in most cases. But If I the lowly consumer must give up some flexibility, then so should the publisher

    And herein, I believe is the problem. We see overall that publishers are not making equal sacrifices. We here that studios are still charging packaging and return product percentages when there are not packaging or physical product. Likewise newspaper prices have been going up, allegedly, because of the increasing price of paper, ink, and transportation, yet many publishers refuse to leave those expensive relics behind. Evidently those items are not so expensive when compared to the loss of physical ad revenue. The NYT Times want $15 a month for the electronic edition.

    So here is the issue we are going to see with E-Books. Cost of a paperback, $8. Cost of an E-Book, $10. Fine, there is a connivence fee, but if I can't resell it, if I can't put it on whatever device I want to use a the moment, I can;t return it the next day, then why the hell am I a paying the same amount for a book? To maintain the luxury corporate offices in New York, Paris, and London. I don't think so. Just like iTMS, Just like the DVD, if you are going to restrict use, give me something in return. For books the logical thing is price. No paper costs, no overstock costs, no shipping costs. I know the publishers are saying, well, a hardback is $30, so we are giving you a 60% discount. But you are not. I could wait a month or two and buy that hardback second hand for $10. Now I can't. The publisher will be getting all the money for every sales. So compromise and don't be the greedy bastards that never learn and put this country on the brink of financial crisis every 40 years of so. Sell the ebooks for $5-8 and I bet that all this will go away. If you are going to create a market where you control everything, be a compassionate fascist and give your peasants a break.

  • Garage Sales (Score:4, Interesting)

    by the_Bionic_lemming ( 446569 ) on Saturday March 22, 2008 @10:55PM (#22833546)
    Garage sales sell lots of books for oft near a dime.

    I have at least a years backlog built up to read.

    If people turn their backs on the cash grab, then the folks trying to grab cash will painfully learn the lesson.
  • Hypothetically... (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 22, 2008 @11:01PM (#22833578)
    Does this mean if I purchase DRM'ed videos, I can sell my hard drive that contains them?
  • Re:Fine idea. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by aleph42 ( 1082389 ) * on Saturday March 22, 2008 @11:26PM (#22833660)
    Oh, please.

    the **AA always use that point, but everybody knows that theyare the only one who are going to lose in the new system (or in this case, the publishers are).

    They only sell a centralised organisation to distribute content. And there is nothing they could invent to preserve the same insane margins that they had in the old system (well, publishers may not do as much money as Universal, but still).

    On the contray, authors can find inventive new ways to reach the public and leverage the increased audiance and ease of use to get as much or more revenues.

    Maybe some authors won't do as much money anymore; maybe some won't even make a living and will have to find an other job. But I don't think that there will be that many of them; and by definition, they won't be missed very much.

    And if you don't beleive that the new system can reward authors, look at blogs: millions of authors getting advertising money, which is based directly on their success, and will either make them some extra cash or push them to make blogging their day job.
  • by Creepy Crawler ( 680178 ) on Saturday March 22, 2008 @11:42PM (#22833724)
    How sad you must be..

    So, only books count as content in your world? I see many a ways to make content that builds upon others, expanding all. Cooperation is almost always better than competition, except in cases that all sides gain from ones work. Consider it, if you will, a challenge of ideologies: a Vi vs Emacs, or KDE vs Gnome, or KOffice vs OppenOffice.. Advancements in one lead to advancements in all, at the detriment of none.

    And, I guess we can't count on creators to make content freely available, can we? Something about Trent Reznor rings a bell.. or that sci-fi publisher that gives books out online.. or a multitude of short story writers that freely write because they enjoy telling a story... These people most assuredly do not exist.

    True, we do enjoy eating, but people who have that need to create will do so, monetarily or not. It is our best interest that they continue to do so, without the parasites that live upon them currently.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 23, 2008 @12:37AM (#22833970)
    But if I do, in fact, delete the file after sending it then it's not a copy.

    Since the deleting part is not verifiable and violates human nature, the courts give the copyright owner the benefit of the doubt at the expense of the buyer's first sale rights.

    DRM could be used to verify that the deletion happened, but the copyright owners have no incentive to set up such a system.

    Perhaps the courts will eventually figure this out and shift the benefit of the doubt in the consumer's favor.

    If the copyright owner is not willing to set up a civilized DRM system, then the buyer should be trusted to perform the deletion.

  • Re:Fine idea. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by WNight ( 23683 ) on Sunday March 23, 2008 @03:52AM (#22834820) Homepage
    What's the link? If it's any good I'll talk about it at least, and may buy it if I really like it.

    As for how you make money, why do authors deserve a perpetual income from a one-time creation?

    Write a book, get lifelong monopoly rights. Write a song, get lifetime royalties but no control. Build a chair, sell it once. Design a neat house, watch everyone design their own with your neat idea while you get nothing. Do someone's accounting and have no rights to the figures. Spend time and resources compiling a factual text and find all the facts duplicated on someone's website.

    It's a little arbitrary what's blessed.

    Why do you, by virtue of the specific way you make marks on paper, deserve society footing the bill for your copyright protection?

    Without chair-builder's monopoly rights, do carpenters stop making chairs? Without control over similar designs, do architects stop designing houses? Without protection for facts, do news agencies quit reporting?

    Some profit motives (like writing games) goes away, but others remain (sponsoring a game to sell console hardware). id Software wouldn't have the incentive to write Quake, but what if Sony had them write it for the Playstation, to encourage gamers to use their product? Sony payed a lot for temporary exclusivity of Grand Theft Auto (not technologically enforced - simply because only the playstation port was released).
  • What is so bad about having, for example, a mention in the acknowledgments or preface "this book sponsored by so-and-so"?

    Just because web advertisers overdo advertising to the point that we're all pretty much "ad-blind" doesn't mean that, properly done, an ebook won't be effective.

    Most books don't even earn thair advance money - which is typically less than $5,000 [] - note the comments about self-selection that would tend to bias the reported amount upward.

    So, rather than having a seriously limited run, why not make it so that it's free for people to pass around, etc? The books that are little more than ad-paks will be displaced by the higher-quality books with only one or two ads, since people are more likely to find the latter more useful and more likely to pass a copy or 5 along to friends and coworkers.

    "Free is good" - free as in cost, free as in the right to make copies and pass them along, free as in the author can choose who and how the sponsor is presented in his or her work.

  • by tomhudson ( 43916 ) <barbara.hudson@b ... u d s o n . c om> on Sunday March 23, 2008 @05:26AM (#22835118) Journal

    Which would you rather have?

    • Option 1: A proprietary format eBook that you can't copy, share, pass around to others, back up to other media, etc., even after you paid for it?

    • Option 2: A free eBook that you can copy, share, pass around to others, back up to other media, etc., and that didn't cost you a cent?

    Having a business act as your books' sponsor doesn't mean turning it into the eBook equivalent of an ad-jammed web page. That would be counter-productive. A notice that "this book is sponsored by xyz corp" on the front page, and an ad on one the inside cover pages for the same sponsor, with no other advertising by the sponsor or anyone else (so as not to dilute the ads' value) should be sufficient if the eBook is any good.

    Now which of the two above options appeals more to advertisers? An eBook that has only limited distribution rights, and that they can't give away ... or one that, if it's any good, will be passed around all over the place? And which of the two will they be more likely to promote?

    Free (as in freedom) wins every time, if done right.

  • Re:Fine idea. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by rolfwind ( 528248 ) on Sunday March 23, 2008 @06:56AM (#22835314)
    You're wrong. Some buggy whip manufacturers didn't have to change, some made a successful dive into S&M products.
  • Re:Fine idea. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by hairyfeet ( 841228 ) <bassbeast1968 AT gmail DOT com> on Sunday March 23, 2008 @09:31AM (#22835932) Journal
    Please mod this guy up.Despite what these distributors and the *.AAs of the world say about "pirates" what these bozos are pulling is what every robber baron has tried to do since the beginning of time,which is to control the market.Make no mistake,to these people money is strictly hoarded and carefully applied toward the primary goal,which is POWER.After all,once you have made yourself the gatekeeper and sole distributor you can always jack up the price later.These bozos want everything wrapped up in shiny DRM with nice prison terms for those that dare break it,not to protect the "creators",but to ensure that all content has to go through them for any chance at a mainstream audience.

    Be it books,music,games,movies,etc they simply don't want there to be a free market,because then you could choose not to play in their DRM games.When you purchase DRM,you get absolutely nothing in return.The maker of the DRM can take away that which you have paid for at any time.After all,you didn't actually "buy" the content.What you "bought"(rented) was a license to "use"(until they say different) the file containing the content according to a EULA that nearly always gives the distributor the right to change the rules at any time.Sad to say that if ebooks of this type end up the defacto standard we could very well end up with libraries becoming nothing more than Blockbuster videos for words.

    We can only hope that the world at large doesn't buy into their shell game,because sadly here in the US they can get any law they want passed by whipping out their collective checkbook.And our media will happily parrot whatever the suits want them to say.I am just waiting on the newsspeak to become as bad as the scene in Airplane II "Four alarm fire makes way for glorious new tractor factory!" or in this case "New eternal copyrights and digital defenses are paired with ten year mandatory prison sentences to protect poor starving artists against rampant organized Internet thievery!" But as always this is my 02c,YMMV.

  • Re:Fine idea. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by sempernoctis ( 1229258 ) on Sunday March 23, 2008 @10:12AM (#22836204)
    The difference is that the government wanted to stimulate the production of creative works. That's why copyright (and patent) law was created in the first place. If you compile facts into an original work, that also gets copyright protection (though the individual facts may separately be didn't create them, you just compiled them). But of course, nobody enforces this outside the academic community because researchers don't pay RIAA or MPAA dues. The real problem here is that with the comparatively massive resources the MAFIAA has and their ability to use them to lobby the government, the rights of a few corporations are being prioritized over the rights of the individuals buying and producing the content, so copyright law now serves more to allow publishers to extort money from consumers than to reward artists for their work.
  • by RobBebop ( 947356 ) on Sunday March 23, 2008 @12:28PM (#22836916) Homepage Journal

    What is so bad about having, for example, a mention in the acknowledgments or preface "this book sponsored by so-and-so"?

    I want to answer your question with one of my own. What is so bad about having legislators or judges in the government who are sponsored by so-and-so? I admit that the comparison between entertainment and politics is extreme, but hopefully you agree that ensuring a stream of money to finance future projects is as important for writers as it is for politicians. A writer who takes money from Exxon might be tempted or persuaded to change minor points in his or her plotline to be more oil-friendly.

    "Free is good" - free as in cost, free as in the right to make copies and pass them along, free as in the author can choose who and how the sponsor is presented in his or her work.

    I agree. In my original post I mentioned giving readers a "read now, pay later" option. This would benefit the economy by ensuring that only authors with good stories will develop readerships. And *those* readers with tell their friends. And a fraction of the satisfied readers will click on the appropriate "Donate now" links on the novel's website and the author will get a very clear idea whether people are "buying" his (or her) work or not. In theory, writers who sell well will get the coveted opportunity to quit their day jobs and write full-time.

    I even encourage giving interested parties the freedom to develop derivative works, but only on stories which have produced a certain level of revenue to satisfy the needs of the author (i.e. to prevent Hollywood from producing a film and profit from it without paying a dime for the rights). You can read more about that theory here [].

"I have not the slightest confidence in 'spiritual manifestations.'" -- Robert G. Ingersoll