10 Years

I read Richard Stallman’s The Right to Read in 1997, when I was an undergrad at MIT. If you haven’t read it, go read it, now. It’s classic Stallman: clear, crisp, and chilling. At the time, I thought “okay, I’m a free software developer, and Richard is brilliant, but this seems a bit over the top, a bit paranoid.”

Oh how things change in 10 years.

Amazon just released Kindle, its e-book technology. Mark Pilgrim sums up his thoughts in a way that many, including me, strongly connect with. Here’s an excerpt from the Kindle terms of service:

You may not sell, rent, lease, distribute, broadcast, sublicense or otherwise assign any rights to the Digital Content or any portion of it to any third party, and you may not remove any proprietary notices or labels on the Digital Content. In addition, you may not, and you will not encourage, assist or authorize any other person to, bypass, modify, defeat or circumvent security features that protect the Digital Content.

Your rights under this Agreement will automatically terminate without notice from Amazon if you fail to comply with any term of this Agreement. In case of such termination, you must cease all use of the Software and Amazon may immediately revoke your access to the Service or to Digital Content without notice to you and without refund of any fees.

And the crazy thing is that, after DVDs, DRMed music, and Windows Genuine Advantage, this clause is not that surprising…. except maybe if you think back to before the Internet, before online music, before Youtube, and you remember the idea of holding a physical book, and the freedom that entailed. Why would the digital version be more constrained?

6 thoughts on “10 Years

  1. I think this is clear. When possessing a hardcopy of any literature, you could not distribute it, without having to pay for its reproduction, while in the SW case, the reproduction is free, just forward…
    However, the value of the SW version should not be any different from its hardcopy couterpart. So, why you should you pay less, or nothing at all?
    Assume you wrote a cryptography book, and sent it to your friend for review, and you eventually plan on publishing it. Would you care if it were distributed online without your authorisation by your friend? This would certainly make everything simple (and cheaper). So why indeed should the digital version be more constrained?…

  2. I think this is clear. When possessing a hardcopy of any literature, you could not distribute it, without having to pay for its reproduction, while in the SW case, the reproduction is free, just forward…
    However, the value of the SW version should not be any different from its hardcopy couterpart. So, why you should you pay less, or nothing at all?
    Assume you wrote a cryptography book, and sent it to your friend for review, and you eventually plan on publishing it. Would you care if it were distributed online without your authorisation by your friend? This would certainly make everything simple (and cheaper). So why indeed should the digital version be more constrained?…

  3. Ben is comparing two commercial forms of media — no one is claiming that media should be free if its creator chooses to sell it, only that we should have freedom to use it once legitimately purchased.

    Why should I have fewer rights to a digital copy’s use than a physical copy? When I’m done reading that hardcover cryptography book, I can lend it to a friend, copy a page or two for presentation, or even donate it to a library so anyone in my community can read it.

    Shulman, let’s say I wrote a book, and you bought it. Would you sit idly by while I, the author, broke into your home (“without notice to you”) to steal the book back (“revoke your access”) and, adding insult to injury, refuse to give your money back (“without refund of any fees”)?

    Kindle’s TOS is absurd, and I’m going to dig up my library card in protest.

  4. Ben is comparing two commercial forms of media — no one is claiming that media should be free if its creator chooses to sell it, only that we should have freedom to use it once legitimately purchased.

    Why should I have fewer rights to a digital copy’s use than a physical copy? When I’m done reading that hardcover cryptography book, I can lend it to a friend, copy a page or two for presentation, or even donate it to a library so anyone in my community can read it.

    Shulman, let’s say I wrote a book, and you bought it. Would you sit idly by while I, the author, broke into your home (“without notice to you”) to steal the book back (“revoke your access”) and, adding insult to injury, refuse to give your money back (“without refund of any fees”)?

    Kindle’s TOS is absurd, and I’m going to dig up my library card in protest.

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