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August 5, 2009
Free Kindle: Who's Not Laughing About Tethered Electronic Resources
Perhaps you remember when Amazon founder Jeff Bozos appeared on The Daily Show to promote the new Kindle earlier this year. (If you don't, the video of Jeff's laughing jag is available below.) Not everyone is laughing as freakishly loud about the Kindle as Bezos did. In reviewing his recently purchased Kindle for The New Yorker, Nicholson Baker wrote:
Here’s what you buy when you buy a Kindle book. You buy the right to display a grouping of words in front of your eyes for your private use with the aid of an electronic display device approved by Amazon. The company uses an encoding format called Topaz. There are other e-book software formats—Adobe Acrobat, for instance, and Microsoft Reader, and an open format called ePub—but Amazon went its own way. Nobody else’s hardware can handle Topaz without Amazon’s permission. That means you can’t read your Kindle books on your computer, or on an e-book reader that competes with the Kindle. (You can, however, read Kindle books on the iPod Touch and the iPhone ... because Amazon has decided that it’s in its interest to let you.) Maybe you’ve heard of the Sony Reader? The Sony Reader’s page-turning controls are better designed than the Kindle’s controls, and the Reader came out more than a year before the Kindle did; also, its screen is slightly less gray, and its typeface is better, and it can handle ePub and PDF documents without conversion, but forget it. You can’t read a Kindle book on a Sony machine, or on the Ectaco jetBook, the BeBook, the iRex iLiad, the Cybook, the Hanlin V2, or the Foxit eSlick. Kindle books aren’t transferable. You can’t give them away or lend them or sell them. You can’t print them. They are closed clumps of digital code that only one purchaser can own. A copy of a Kindle book dies with its possessor.
Tethered to the Mother Ship. But a copy of a Kindle book doesn't necessarily die with the Kindle owner. It could disappear much sooner if Amazon deletes it as recently happened or, more importantly, if Amazon decides to stop selling and supporting Kindles and their tethered books. Could happen; remember Yahoo, Microsoft, and Wal-Mart shut down their e-music stores. If Amazon's Kindle server went dark, one couldn't purchase new titles and once one's Kindle died, as all gizmos do, one couldn't read purchased books if Amazon stopped selling or supporting purchased Kindles. Neither wouldn't be a laughing matter. Vendors have no compelling economic interest to support legacy software and hardware.
Owners of Kindle books killed by Amazon are suing the Company over their removal. In LLB's Amazon Sued Over Kindle Deletions post, Mark Giangrande observes that the lawsuit is really about what rights customers can expect with digital books if something less than perpetual access to them is lost. Giangrande writes:
This essentially strikes at the heart of the Amazon deletions. There is the practical problem of who really owns this stuff in spite of what the terms of service say. Unlike some music services that have abandoned DRM, Amazon tightly controls what happens to the electronic product they sell. Consumers have won the right to back up their music files by burning them to CD or simply archiving them to hard drives or servers. At that point the burden of backing up digital files falls to the consumer. E-books haven't come this far. Amazon and the publishers control it all. We have to have faith that Amazon will come through for us in ten years when the Kindle20 comes out. I'm not so sure that the majority of the general public is willing to make that leap. ... While I don't think the plaintiffs in these suits are going to get anywhere with their facts, these suits are helpful in defining rights and shaping the nascent e-book market. They also help to give fodder for future legislative battles over consumer rights.
Free Kindle Petition Drive. See Giangrande's post for an analysis of the issues involving tethered electronic resources and his post about the Free Software Foundation's online petition drive demanding that Amazon "remove all DRM, including any ability to control or access the user's library, from the Kindle ... Whatever Amazon's reasons for imposing this control may be, they are not as important as the public's freedom to use books without interference or supervision."
Time for The Daily Show video clip. [JH]
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Of course, this is the same kind of issue that librarians who deal with electronic resources have been facing for as long as there *have* been electronic resources.
Hey, we've learned to deal with it. And I'm sure quite a few of the people who buy a Kindle and then realize it's locked will find ways to break the encoding.
And, hey, maybe this is also a good time to reflect on whether, as librarians, we are custodians of data/information/knowledge/wisdom...or of the physical media that all of those are actually contained on.
Ownership v. access, *always* all over again.
Posted by: Mikhail Koulikov | Aug 5, 2009 6:01:35 AM