On ebook copies, a quick opinion

Date: 01 May, 2011
Posted by: admin
In: copyright

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Initial musings on UK copyright law in response to a piece of the negatives of ebook readers.

On ebook copies

A quick opinion

I came across this statement in a comment attached to a post about reasons not to buy an ebook reader.

3. Software upgrades or obsolesence could force you to buy your library all over again

Copyright law [here in the UK] should be changed to enshrine format shifting and to ensure that purchase of a copy allows a person to use a copy of the work, not just the specific physical instance. Just as one might make a DVD backup to allow one to keep a pristine original of your toddlers favourite (which is currently unlawful in the UK) one could retain a backup of an ebook in case you lose the device. Or in case you need to change to a new device you could run a format change operation on the ebook allowing you to still enjoy it with your new device.

Thus one could download all ones already owned paper books and be protected against claims of copyright infringement. Similarly once a purchase was made that ebook could be acquired for (nearly) free again should one suffer loss of the physical instance.

It would also mean that the price of an ebook rendering would be anchored down with the price of an existing paper copy – want the ebook, buy the paper version and format shift to the ebook. You would be effectively licensed to download the ebook (if it exists) or make your own copy for use on your device (which you could also pass on to those who own the right to use the work). You wouldn’t need to destroy the paper copy as long as it was kept as a backup, ie not loaned out or used when the ebook was being used.

This would move licensing in the right direction, to spread knowledge.

Won’t happen.

( E&OE. Probably big holes in this, it is not a full consideration as yet just my initial musings).

One Responses to "On ebook copies, a quick opinion"

DMcCunney says:

There’s actually a better solution to the above problem.

At the moment, there are two dominant ebook formats, MobiPocket and ePub. (There are a number of others, but those dominate the market.)

The Mobi format was derived by a French ebook publisher of the same name. It’s essentially an encapsulated subset of HTML, in a metadata wrpper, and compressed with a variant of RLE compression. Amazon bought MobiPocket in 2005, and uses their format as the basis for Kindle editions.

ePub is a standard developed and promoted by the International Digital Publishing Forum, with Adobe as a principal force pushing adoption. ePub is a container, and while most ePub volumes are mainly HTML text, an ePub volume may contain audio and video, and an assortment of “enhanced” ebook projects are underway to take advantage of this capability. (As I recall, the ePub spec mandates that the device displaying the ePub file simply ignore stuff it doesn’t understand/can’t do, so you’ll get whatever your hardware is capable of.)

The issue isn’t format or software obsolescence, it’s Digital Rights Management. DRM locks you into a specific platform by preventing the display of the book on a different platform. Amazon uses a modified version of the DRM scheme implemented by Mobipocket. The intent isn’t to lock you into a platform, as Amazon will let you read a Kindle title on anything for which a Kindle viewer exists. What Amazon is trying to do is lock you into a *vendor*. They want to be your sole supplier for purchased ebooks, and their DRM is designed to enforce that. You can get a volume on Mobi format not encumbered by DRM, and side-load and read it on a Kindle or other device with a Mobi viewer. Barnes and Noble is doing something similar for the Nook which uses ePub as the ebook format.

It your ebook *isn’t* encumbered by DRM, it’s relatively trivial to format shift. There’s a cross-platform application (written in Python, and available for Windows, Mac OS/X, and Linux) called Calibre. Calibre is a “swiss army knife” for ebooks, and one of the things it does is convert between formats. I use it here to shift content in ePub format into Mobi format for viewing on my PDA, which only has a Mobi viewer available. Calibre is open source under the GPL.

If your ebook *is* encumbered by DRM, it’s relatively trivial to remove it. Once again, Calibre can help. There are plugins you can drop into Calibre’s plugin directory to handle just about every DRM scheme in use. Once you’ve stripped the DRM, you can format shift to your heart’s content.

Calibre is here: http://calibre-ebook.com/

Calibre’s author doesn’t officially support DRM removal for legal reasons, and doesn’t offer the plugins from his site. Google on “Dark Reverser” and “Apprentice Alf” for pointers to the needed bits.


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