Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Ebook Licenses and the Assault on Private Ownership...

Boing Boing has an article today titled, "In the Age of EBooks, You Don't Own Your Library". Its point is that many hardware ebook readers like Kindle and Sony Reader run on stores that only license - instead of selling - books to you. In other words, when you "buy" books from Amazon or Sony, you're actually not paying to own them, but to rent them. The ebook manufacturers, at the behest of the publishing industry, are doing this in the name of "protecting the authors". Doesn't this sound awfully familiar?

It's impossible not to draw an analogy to what's been happening the past few years with music, movies, and virtually every other type of media. These days, when you "buy" a song online, the same type of rental agreement is enforced. Unfortunately, the very concept of private ownership is under assault, and the threat is coming under the guise of "copyright protection".

"It's funny that in the name of protecting 'intellectual property,' big media companies are willing to do such violence to the idea of real property - arguing that since everything we own, from our t-shirts to our cars to our ebooks, embody someone's copyright, patent and trademark, that we're basically just tenant farmers, living on the land of our gracious masters who've seen fit to give us a lease on our homes."

What information protectionists need to understand is that it's in their own best interests to put their product out there in the most accessible way possible. Make a product, sell the product; but don't then try to restrict people's behavior who actually purchased the product legally because that only provides a strong disincentive for them to do so again the next time. After all, "books that you own can be loaned, re-sold and given away, and the ongoing health of the book trade and reading itself relies on this - how many of your favorite writers did you discover at a used bookstore, or when a friend passed you a copy of a book?".

It's interesting that people's instinctive attitudes in perceiving the copyright issue often seem different for books versus music and video. Perhaps it's because books imply knowledge, and few people think that general knowledge should be proprietary, therefore they cringe at the thought of restrictive leasing agreements as it applies to them. Or perhaps its the result of the record and motion picture industries' intense propaganda campaign of fear and intimidation over the past few years. Or perhaps it's simply that most people haven't yet downloaded ebooks off the internet, so they don't yet see it as a threat. But, whatever the case may be, the true issue that copyright law is intended to address is culture, and that being the case, there's really no difference between books and CDs, nor between authors and musicians. Copyright's very purpose is to protect our shared common culture as well as the interests of the artists who contribute to that shared culture - and the industries' assault on the idea of private ownership only does irreparable damage to both.

In the end, this case may only serve to highlight to the mainstream public just how ridiculous the claims asserted by the music and movie industries have been in recent years. There is a desperate need for reforming copyright law in the United States and, as stories like this continue to develop, it is only getting more pronounced.


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