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Stallman's Dystopia (vivekhaldar.com)
347 points by gandalfgeek on May 20, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 135 comments

Freedom is almost always lost in small steps.

Sure, discontinuities happen in extreme cases (e.g., the WTC's destruction -> the PATRIOT Act), and when they do a lot of people notice. The more subtle losses in freedom that occur gradually (the DMCA and its progeny, for example) are harder to notice until one day you look back and say "huh, how did we get here?"

The concept of the Overton Window [1] is interesting and germane here. 20 years ago the idea that you couldn't lend a book you own to your friend or loan them the new album you just bought would have seemed insane. Over time, a gradual shift in the concept of ownership has changed the scope of the issue to the point where many people would now accept that it seems reasonable that you can't lend your books to someone else.

People at the edge of the Overton window are like our canaries in the coal mine. Gradual shifts in the window are hard to notice from the middle, but easy to notice as the "edge" passes over you. In that respect, to me RMS seems most valuable to us for precisely the reasons others call him a crackpot.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Overton_window

You articulated my opinion of rms much better than I've ever been able to. I've always called him a counterweight for the discussion.

In letting these DRM schemes take hold and become commercially acceptable, I feel that as a profession, we have failed the general populace. (I am certainly not innocent here. Although I've not developed anything, I've bought quite a few DRM'd games.)

Only a few groups (such as the FSF) have stood up and tried to raise awareness of what's going on, but it's not been enough.

Observation: I don't think the FSF's tactic of renaming everything helped (iBad, iGroan, Treacherous Computing, Digital Restrictions Management, ...), as it adds another barrier to explaining things to Joe Public. I can see what they're trying to do (make these things sound less friendly), but for the nontechnical end user it just muddies the water.

> iBad, iGroan, Treacherous Computing, Digital Restrictions Management

iBad is tacky and groan-worthy, but I think Digital Restrictions Management is quite apropos.

Digital Restrictions Management has the advantage that it isn't really a renaming, but an upgrade of the descriptiveness of the term. It isn't snotty or obviously juvenile, it is actually more accurate. It is the only expansion I use, because "Rights" is actively deceptive.

Agreed. Of the ones I listed, it's the only one that stands a chance of sounding plausible. It helps that the discussion about DRM usually refers to it by its initialism.

Are people actually more accepting of not being able to share, or is it simply the case that they can't or don't know how?

It's a pretty easy and painless gesture to lend someone a physical book for the weekend. It's a much harder gesture to lend someone your entire Kindle or iPad in order for them to access the book. Until/unless sharing features become more available, better known, and more widely used, I think we're really just seeing the effects of "I don't know how" rather than "I wouldn't."

People had no trouble "sharing" media on floppy disks (or email, etc...). The fact that it's been made (deliberately, IMHO) difficult might be part of the proximate cause for the lack of sharing, but I don't see how that refutes the original point about the Overton window: people's perception of what is "sharable" has shifted over the past 20 years.

And that's sad.

I don't dispute that sharing has been made deliberately more difficult in the digital media age, and by parties interested in maintaining -- or at least prolonging -- that difficulty. I'm not fully convinced, however, that this difficulty has actually changed consumer notions of what is, and is not, ethically sharable. I haven't seen enough data on consumer perceptions or beliefs; all the data presented so far can just as easily be explained by the difficulty of sharing in and of itself. (Note that I'm not saying perception changes won't ever happen; I'm merely saying that I don't know if they've actually happened just yet).

For the record, I am pro-sharing, and I believe that IP holders and media companies who would do their darndest to prevent sharing are incredibly short-sighted. They wring their hands about the need for (evidently magical) "viral marketing" of their material, while at the same time inherently limiting the ability of their consumers to do a lot of the peer-to-peer marketing that they used to do.

I think you're right that people simply don't know how to share, and that they probably would share if they did know how. But isn't it troubling that sharing requires some kind of special knowledge? that sharing is a "feature" to be added (or not) at the producer's whim? And isn't it troubling that people don't seem to be upset about that?

And isn't it troubling that people don't seem to be upset about that?

The fact that they're not presumably indicates that people don't lend their books to their friends all that often.

I mean, I have hundreds of books, and I've lent a couple of 'em to friends on a couple of occasions, but if I were physically incapable of doing so then I doubt it would have bothered me too much.

Paper books vs eBooks are just different products with different properties. You can read and lend paper books and use 'em as paperweights and sell 'em second hand... but you can't copy 'em, and you can't fit more than a few in your carry-on luggage. eBooks, on the other hand, you can carry around hundreds at a time, but you can't sell or lend 'em or use 'em as paperweights.

There is a very big difference between lending a paper book and sharing an electronic copy and conflating the two damages the debate. Please stop making the analogy.

Lending a paper book meant you couldn't read the book until you retrieved it from the other party. Sharing an electronic copy has no such restriction.

Pretending that the rights you had with a paper book should be the same as the rights you have with electronic copy is silly because the only similarity is the content and nothing else. The real debate is what should your rights with regard to the content actually be? And how do you protect those rights when the content goes digital?

And on that note, the Patriot Act is in the process of being extended

> many people would now accept that it seems reasonable that you can't lend your books to someone else.

Really? Some evidence for this claim would be very useful.

My (personal and anecdotal) experience is just the opposite - people seem more willing to lend out physical possessions - where they still have them. So, books, XBox games, clothes, etc - I see these things being shared all the time.

Really? Some evidence for this claim would be very useful.

How many people are boycotting the Kindle because the lending feature is broken?

How fast would I get sued if I made a magical piece of software that allowed people to lend digital music purchases to their friends in some hypothetical way exactly analogous to lending them a physical CD (i.e., only one copy ever exists)?

How fast is the RIAA lawyering up over Amazon et al offering services where I can store my music in their cloud and stream it to myself?

Really, I don't think I'm making a hugely strong claim here.

I don't know anybody that doesn't at least express regret over the fact that books on their Kindle can't be shared, and I know more than one family that shares one giant account for all their purchases as a workaround. It's definitely not something people are completely happy with, although they're not as up in arms as I'd like...

> How many people are boycotting the Kindle because the lending feature is broken?

I won't be buying one until they remove the DRM.

Admirable, but regrettably, people boycotting Kindle or any other product because of the DRM are in the minority that is easy to ignore.

> How many people are boycotting the Kindle because the lending feature is broken?

Yesterday Amazon announced they're selling more titles on Kindle than hardback and paperback put together.

> How fast would I get sued if I made a magical piece of software that allowed people to lend digital music purchases to their friends in some hypothetical way exactly analogous to lending them a physical CD (i.e., only one copy ever exists)?

What does this have to do with me asking you for some evidence that people were more accepting of the fact that they can't lend books out?

> How fast is the RIAA lawyering up over Amazon et al offering services where I can store my music in their cloud and stream it to myself?

Again, not sure what this has to do with you saying people accept that it's reasonable to not lend out books.

I think we understand different things by "evidence" - you're positing hypotheticals.

[updated to add missing not in my penultimate sentence]

> > How many people are boycotting the Kindle because the lending feature is broken?

> Yesterday Amazon announced they're selling more titles on Kindle than hardback and paperback put together.

That's his point. Not many people are boycotting the Kindle, despite its titles being less lendable than their physical counterparts. This seems like evidence to me; it's not likely that you'll find a longitudinal study of people's attitudes towards book lending over the past 50 years, but anecdotally I think it's reasonable to posit that people would have scoffed at Kindle-like lending restrictions on physical books 50 years ago (and probably still would). What sort of evidence would you require?

But you can lend - you just hand someone your Kindle. What you can't do (right now), is take a copy, send that copy to someone and be prevented from reading the .

Having said that, I clearly misunderstood his original point - I had physical items in mind when I responded.

There's an implication that we're all blissfully unaware, and one day we're going to wake up, and all the rights that matter will have been taken away from us, one imperceptible slice at a time. I pretty much disagree with this - I think the tradeoffs that are being made are deemed acceptable.

We yearn for more (the ability to share anything we want with anyone we want at any time), but we've have collectively decided to sacrifice some freedoms to gain others.

From where I'm sitting all I see is a steady erosion of personal freedoms and an ever-increasing number of behavioral mandates we have to adhere to. I invite you to point out these new found freedoms we've traded up for.

I don't think I said we traded up, but it's not like we've lost everything. Here are some freedoms (or benefits)

- freedom from physically needing to get to a bookstore - I know this sounds trivial, but there are many people who have difficulties with access

- the freedom of choice: I can still continue purchasing the physical artifacts and carry on as before

- being able to carry around hundreds or thousands of digital artifacts in incredible. I grew up with Walkmans, and having to create tapes, then moved onto carrying around CDs in cumbersome cases to go with my portable CDman.

Are these trivial freedoms? Possibly. Is my life better - certainly.

The problem is we've given up long-term benefits in exchange for short-term ones, and it's not clear where that's going to lead us.

Steam makes my life super convenient, but what happens if I move to a country with super-aggressive bandwidth caps? For that matter, I don't even know if Steam would let me access my US-bought materials from another country.

As hackers, we're used to working around the problem. The problem is that that attitude lacks foresight, and "death by a thousand cuts" can become a reality.

> For that matter, I don't even know if Steam would let me access my US-bought materials from another country.


But don't come to Australia or you'll have to pay a fortune for your games.

Dawn of war 2: Complete Pack (Australian Steam) $99.99 http://store.steampowered.com/app/56437/?cc=au

Dawn of war 2: Complete Pack (United States Steam) $59.99 http://store.steampowered.com/app/56437/?cc=us

Please note: The currency in both of these “products” is identical.

I think you're confusing freedom with convenience. This seems to be a common mistake. In my experience the two are frequently mutually exclusive. Here's an example from my personal life:

I like to rock climb on the weekends. Two of my favorite climbing destinations (I like them both for different reasons) have wildly different characteristics.

One is a top-roping area managed by the State Park Service and the management plan and local rock quality conspire to force you to utilize specific pre-planned routes. There are well-maintained trails and a parking lot up top. This is insanely convenient as you can just walk up, clip into anchors at the top of the crag, drop a rope, and you're in business. The convenience factor makes this a really great spot if you're taking out a group of inexperienced folks for their first time climbing. That's convenience.

The second area (in another state park) has no anchors of any kind. Parking is at the bottom a couple miles from the crag and to get to any of the climbs you're looking at a 45 minute hike uphill weighed down with a bunch of gear. The rock is also a lot taller here so toproping isn't an option, everything has to be lead from the ground up, on gear, with no pre-placed protection available. In non-climber terms this means you have to hang your ass out on the line and risk taking a fall on every climb you do there. You are totally free to pick any section of rock that suits your fancy, but this also means you have to be able to assess risk and know what you're about. That's freedom.

What you can't do (right now), is take a copy, send that copy to someone and be prevented from reading the

I thought you could do exactly that, if the author allows it, for something like 14 days. But there is a difference here: the author has the say on that (for now, anyway).

Handing someone my Kindle is like lending my whole bookshelf when someone asked a pocketbook.

then buy another kindle.

And if I want to lend more than one book at a time, I would need to buy even more Kindles? Very scalable idea...

Even bits on physical media are slowly being made un-lendable.

EA's "Project Ten Dollar" is an attack at the used games market, and a side affect of this is that you can't lend the whole game to a friend.

All Steam games require you to have steam installed, and the physical CD is just a convenience. Once you've installed the game, you might as well throw the CD away.

people seem more willing to lend out physical possessions - where they still have them

Doesn't that bolster the original claim "many people would now accept that it seems reasonable that you can't lend your books to someone else."? As more and more media moves to digital distribution, the concept of lending is entirely foreign.

First, this is not a loss of freedom. You are free not to buy products, and people are free to write and distribute their work without compensation. Thanks to technology, publishers and distributers are now only relevant for works where the author wants to be paid. Otherwise they would just push a PDF onto their website and you can share it all you want.

Second, if consumers could buy books at 10% of the price on the condition that they not loan them to others, this is not a loss of freedom. It's a good deal.

Third, when you purchase a book, electronic or not, you are not purchasing the global distribution rights for the book. If that's what you want, it's available for a price I'm sure.

Fourth, I feel far more free to access books and information than I did before ebooks. My mother can loan me a book across the country without Fedex. For $10 (less than the price of Fedex'ing that book) I can permanently own a copy of that or nearly any book instantly, anywhere, anytime. I can carry all my books around with me all of the time. I call that freedom.

Fifth, let's not forget Amazon's library program! (http://content.usatoday.com/communities/technologylive/post/...)

This paranoia is completely unfounded and melodramatic. Take off your tin hats!

Technology is supposed to push humanity forward, make possible the things that once were impossible. The developments in printing made it possible for us, the common people, to own books in the first place. But now technology is also used to limit our use of the books that we own, and I wouldn't call that "a good deal".

I recognise the problems in free distribution of digital goods, author compensations beeing the top one in my mind. But as someone already said, we tend to fix the problems with kludges rather than trying to come up with more long lasting solutions.

You don't permanently own it.

There are a few fundamental differences the author doesn't take into account:

1. There is nothing stopping you from lending out your kindle.

2. The notion of "lending" doesn't really apply to electronic books. Absent copy protection, you can just give someone else a copy. With copy protection, to mimic "lending" some infrastructure needs to be in place to give someone else access rights to a copy of a book while simultaneously depriving you of your copy. And of course this is controlled by the seller, since they're the one putting the copy protection in place.

3. I can't copy/paste from my paper books either, at least not in any way that's not also available to kindle owners.

4. Every choice involves trade-offs. There is no morality involved here, much less the sound of jackboots. There is only what people value. Many seem to value the convenience of having their whole library in a small device over the ability to "lend" individual electronic copies. Those who feel differently can stick to paper books, or electronic books unencumbered by copy protection.

> 2. The notion of "lending" doesn't really apply to electronic books. Absent copy protection, you can just give someone else a copy. With copy protection, to mimic "lending" some infrastructure needs to be in place to give someone else access rights to a copy of a book while simultaneously depriving you of your copy. And of course this is controlled by the seller, since they're the one putting the copy protection in place.

Sometimes comments like this makes me wonder whether or not it is not in our best interests not to let technology get hijacked by corporate interests. I understand Amazon has to make a profit somehow to continue providing the infrastructure, but if computers and technology have gotten us, humanity, to a point where one can "lend" books while simultaneously keeping our copy ourselves, why do we encumber ourselves? I can't imagine what people even 100 yrs ago would have wondered at such technology.

I am quite uneducated about history, but I can imagine a similar revolution with the printing press. How much of the clergy / priests opposed printing presses because they allowed the common masses to access information on a scale unprecedented at that time?

Edit: I realize upon a second reading the phrase "... technology get hijacked ..." might be hyperbole, but the point stands.

How much of the clergy / priests opposed printing presses because they allowed the common masses to access information on a scale unprecedented at that time?

Movable type was one of the causes and main tools of the Reformation and thus http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/European_wars_of_religion , so yes, there were huge consequences with lots of opposition.

It’s complicated, of course. The clergy was not always against the spread of books, and the wars had many causes. But comparing cheap digital copying with cheap printing is pretty safe from a historical perspective.

I completely agree.

Every time I see a digital library service, where you can borrow a book or other media that then is deleted after certain lending period, I can't help but thinking that they are missing the point.

The time-limited lending period used by libraries is a bug. A bug that's solved by technology.

Libraries exist in order to spread knowledge and information. But they can't share their knowledge to everyone who wants it, they physically can't keep enough books or duplicate them in a timely manner. This bug has been fixed by digital technology, and we can duplicate them in a timely manner to anyone who wants it.

But some people insist on keeping the bug, and that they are doing society a favor.

'Lending' someone an ebook that they can keep indefinitely is like xeroxing them a paper book, is it not?

Yes, that is an excellent point. Although, in a lot of cases, photocopying a book requires significant labor, with much lower guarantee of quality and I've rarely seen people making a business out of photocopying novels. For technical books, on the other hand, things get much more complicated. I understand prices are higher because circulation is typically much lower.

However, that leads me to another question: Must we always look at analogies from the past and work with them? The beauty of new technologies is that they're better than the old ones we had. It might take a lot more work, but it is much better to look at things afresh rather than falling back on old structures and status quo. The reason IP is so contentious is precisely because of this. We do not have anything to fall back on and must device probably completely new and arbitrary rules. Clearly it is in the publishers best interest to stick to status quo as much as possible and try to find analogies to old models so that it might be easier to justify a system in place that guarantees a revenue stream. But for the consumer, it is not obvious why this must be the case. In fact, the whole notion of publisher itself was a solution to a problem that technology has now (seemingly) solved.

But if you lend someone a copy that they could keep indefinitely, the creator doesn't get paid for that copy. Isn't that simple enough?

What if you price it in such a way that lending someone a copy allows them to still pay the creator?

You do realize that you as a creator are taking advantage of the medium to distribute your creation in much more efficient ways, yet, you don't want to give the privilege of the abilities of the medium to the consumer. It is this asymmetry that fundamentally perplexes me (to which I have no satisfactory answer).

I don't see any reason for this to perplex you. The dead tree model is well established; enough people are willing to pay for their own copy so that they don't have to go through the annoyance of lending.

One of the abilities of ebooks is that there is essentially zero duplication cost. That means that (outside of legal and DRM) there would be absolutely no reason for anyone to ever pay for a book instead of getting it for free.

I would actually say that there is very little advantage of ebooks to an author; piracy is suddenly an actual problem instead of something that would be laughable (how many pirate paper backs do people own?), people suddenly can't lose your book meaning they will only purchase it once, and most importantly you lose the entirety of the extra profits from hardcover editions (the price of hardcover versus paperbacks is not really from the cost to produce). Publishers are clearly going to be decimated by self publishing becoming more viable for up and coming authors.

The efficiency of not having to print actual books, ship them, etc is nothing compared to these other factors. The real reason why they have to sell ebooks is because customers are demanding them, and would buy their competitors books if they didn't offer digital editions.

Almost nothing about ebooks is actually positive to publishers or established authors. They are the horseshoe manufacturers and the model T has just been invented; just because they start making tires doesn't mean that they wouldn't be much happier if cars had never become invented.

Printing was welcome by the church, as it increased quality: less errors and a more uniform look. One of the first printed books was a latin bible http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gutenberg_Bible

Lending your kindle is like lending ALL of your books. When I lend book A, I can still read book B. That's why I stick to dead trees for the time being.

Actually, amazon hasn't been very clear about whether or not physically lending a kindle is within their terms of service.


Regardless of where it actually stands in their ToS, I suspect that even if they wanted to start enforcing it (which they seem not to want to do based on the article), some group like the EFF would be pretty quick to mount a court challenge. The iTunes ToS[1] says, "You agree not to modify, rent, lease, loan, sell, distribute, or create derivative works based on the Service in any manner," but I think if there was ever a challenge on people loaning their iPod (with iTMS music on it) to a friend, it would get struck down pretty quickly.

[1]http://www.apple.com/legal/itunes/us/terms.html#SERVICE Under Intellectual Property

I would think and hope so, but that gets awfully close to the Zediva case (http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2011/03/zediva-copyright/). I would think the 'public performance' argument still holds, even though it would be a free performance.

So, I do not think this would get struck down quickly. I do doubt that studios would dare sue in this case, though. Under pressure from public opinion, laws can change very quickly, and such a change could see studios lose quite a few sources of income.

I agree, If you have a credit card, it comes with the same limitation for obvious reasons.

>3. I can't copy/paste from my paper books either, at least not in any way that's not also available to kindle owners.

You mean I can chop the spine off of my kindle and run it through that massive scanning/OCRing beast like I did with textbooks? Awesome!

Talk about limiting access to technology. I think more people can afford Kindle's (and thus their access to the lending, DRM removal and other options) than have access to a "massive scanning/OCRing beast".

The Kindle doesn't have a spine, and it turns pages by the press of a paddle rather than flip of a paper, so it is even easier to scan by machine than a hard book is.

There are machines that accept a stack of (unbound) paper and OCR it all. There's no "batch mode" for Kindle (apart from cracking the DRM, but that's a separate issue).

And a duck isn't an orange. His point was that an OCR machine would be easier to make for the kindle--just have it press the paddles. His point was not that an existing OCR machine for books would work on a kindle.

And all the while are we arguing about creating a digital copy of digital content. Even thinking about OCR here is like priting a screenshot and scanning it back in to send it via mail. Possible? Sure. Useful? Not at all..

Here in the UK you break the law when you lend a book without the author's permission.


  Restricted acts
  It is an offence to perform any of the following acts
  without the consent of the owner:
    Copy the work.
    Rent, lend or issue copies of the work to the public.
    Perform, broadcast or show the work in public.
    Adapt the work.
The UK govenment have to pay for the right to lend books in public libraries:


  The payment per loan is 5.98 p

I just had a moment of confusion and bafflement. I didn't know how to process this information. I've always thought of the US and UK as sorta, kinda, similar...and imagined that the UK would have libraries like the US. But given this fundamental difference, it seems obvious that our libraries would be vastly different (and vastly better) than those in the UK, all other things being equal. Of course, all other things are not equal, but I do recall a couple of visitors from other countries being amazed at my local library...perhaps this is part of the reason why. At some point in US history, public good was deemed more important than the ability of rights holders to receive recurring revenue from books in libraries; or maybe the question never came up because the majority of rights holders were overseas in the beginning when our libraries were being created and had no feasible way to fight for more rights. Whatever the reason, as a published author, I wouldn't take that trade...I'd rather have an amazing library, where resources go to acquiring new books rather than maintaining payments on old ones.

I often think RMS is a bit of an extremist...but, when I really think things through, I often end up agreeing with him, at least on the core issues.

I wouldn't read too much into what the UK law says - it's mostly totally ignored in this respect:everybody passes books on and we still have a thriving second-hand book market (albeit one mostly funded by the sale of coffee).

I've seen no evidence that the US has vastly superior public libraries to the UK: all UK cities have a large, comprehensive (non-lending) public library often built by Carnegie. Our local lending Libraries, however, are struggling here due to cuts in government funding - nothing to do with these copyright laws as far as I can tell.

Our local lending Libraries, however, are struggling here due to cuts in government funding - nothing to do with these copyright laws as far as I can tell.

5.9p per loan aggregated over millions of loaned books a year is a sizable chunk of change. Funding wouldn't need to be as large without those fees (which is why I suggested "all other things being equal. Of course all other things are not equal"). I'm just saying that without those fees, UK libraries would almost certainly be better. How much better? I dunno. Depends on how much the culture values libraries. US culture, despite having an anti-intellectualism bias in many areas, takes its libraries pretty darned seriously and tends to fund them reasonably well (though I'm sure more would be welcome, and many small towns don't have sufficient library resources), and most rights holders don't get to view libraries as a recurring revenue stream.

5.9p per loan aggregated over millions of loaned books a year is a sizable chunk of change

£7.6 million according to the article.

(interesting to note that as the U.S. is not a member of the PLR club, American authors will get none of it)

By comparison the British Library (the UK's biggest public library)'s budget is £142million.


The law says you break the law when you lend a book to the public. That phrasing could imply you can still lend it to people you know personally. (That's how it works in Poland.)

The underlying issue here is not one of legality or technology, but rather economics. Market transactions are based on scarcity, and the ability to cheaply copy information which is expensive to make eliminates that scarcity, resulting in a market ecosystem that is unsustainable without legal and/or technological measures.

Call me a commie if you wish, but I don't think this problem can be eliminated without rethinking capitalism as we know it, at least regarding "intellectual property". (This is arguably a self-healing problem, in that struggling entities will be forced to innovate new business models, as has been happening in the music space for the past 10 years.)

In the meantime, those who care deeply about these issues can {a} stick to real books, {b} pirate (note that you can pay and pirate if you like), and {c} keep yammering on about the issue with the hope of swaying more people to value their freedoms, thereby influencing the market.

Consuming locked down content is a choice, and we live in an age of an immense amount of choices. Should content producers have to do everything we say just because we choose to consume their content? Lady Gaga is not a public servant. You are not entitled to copy her work, or even put her songs on your own youtube videos.

Lady Gaga never had to exist in the first place. The fact that she does enriches some of our lives, but we must understand that content is a production of someone else's and it should be treated as such (just as we wish our users to respect the hard work we put into our web apps).

> Mrs Gaga is not a public servant

We are all public servants. To cooperate with each other we are, to that extent, serving each other. And we want to cooperate because when we do we gain.

We can cooperate enormously by sharing information/data. There is nothing in that that means we cannot pay people to produce it. Just that what has been produced is then best shared.

And the marvelous thing about information is that sharing it is free. It costs nothing to share it because copyability of info is infinite and abundant. We can all cooperate, and gain from it, yet no-one needs to give up anything at all.

Some people say we need to restrict information copying in order to make a market to pay for production. But that is nothing more than a pragmatic suggestion. It only makes sense to do that if we cannot devise some better arrangement that would fully realise the benefits of sharing data.

(Or in short, please wake up from all that Randroid casuistry and start seeing reality.)

I disagree with your reality.

The reality I prescribe to is that we all have the freedom to create content and share it under the terms we dictate. We do not have the freedom to dictate terms to someone else.

Where it does not violate essential freedoms (such as me letting someone use my Kindle, or listen to my iPod), having an ability to trust the terms you've set helps business prosper.

Like I said before, the public "culture" feature of this content seems to give us additional rights and ownership over it. Just because we really, really like Tron or Inception does not mean we have the rights to copy it and distribute it through bittorrent.

Great, so the incentive to create content is not intrinsically coupled to the need to control sharing of that content. That's a great point that we often miss, I think.

However, how do you propose content creators become incented to create content?

Many of the details Stallman describes in The Right To Read were taken from existing proposals for the "National Information Infrastructure" (proposed by among others, Al Gore).

The basic approach of using "cyberspace" to impose this approach predates the popularity of the Internet. In fact, the popularity of the Internet postponed a lot of plans that were already on the agenda of various powerful forces.


This article complains specifically about not being able to copy from a book in public domain to somewhere else. If you are seriously having this problem, I recommend checking out


They have a lot of good materials there if you are interested in older books.

You may also try feedbooks. Lots of interesting stuff there (lots ported from Project Gutenberg).

The combination of e-book adoption and an efficient market for used books (eg, abebooks.com) mean that finding and purchasing real books is easier and lower-cost than ever. While some may consider real books inconvenient, I find the fact that no batteries are required rather refreshing. So I keep buying them and don't worry about DRM restrictions.

We still need light to read :) I don't use a kindle or any tablet, but have read hundreds of ebooks on my phones (Nokia + Mobipocket, Android + FBReader or the Kindle app). The books are always with me, and it's more convenient for reading in bed.

When I realized that a Kindle weighs less, is thinner and has identical readability to a book or newspaper, I switched. I can blow up the type size and read in less light than I need for a real book, without having a glowing backlight. They're only $140 which I made up in saved newspaper and magazine costs in about two months.

You do need to be more careful with moisture and dropping damage than with a book. (Buy the warranty.) But if you get non-DRM content or remove the DRM, you can give a copy away, which I love.

I do still buy used books when the book is unavailable but in a few years I expect that will not often be the case.

I haven't recharged the batteries on my Kindle 3 in over a month.

Before the advent of the printing press books cost as much as a small home. Only the wealthy could afford them, and libraries were created to others could use them. Arguably you could say an actual book was more valuable than the material it contained, on average.

Before the advent of the personal computer, computers cost as least as much as a small home. Arguably you could say the computers time was more valuable than the people using them, and people shared them in research and industrial labs.

Both items have become many orders of magnitude cheaper and plentiful to the point of commoditization. eBooks are still competing with hard copy works so the price differential isn't quite there. But once that industry capitulates look for them to drop significantly.

Personally I like the scenario where a friend recommends me a book for $2 that I can purchase for $2 myself vs. him paying $10 and letting me borrow. I like to pay for things that bring value to my life, and in a way he's subsidizing my usage.

The breakthrough portable audio player, iPod, does lead users toward DRM content. But it is also perfectly compatible with copied content, user authored content, downloaded content, whatever.

The breakthrough e-book, Kindle, is similar. If you follow the brightly lit path, you'll start buying books. But there is a balance and users who want to avoid DRM content altogether are free to do so. Most of my news subscriptions are free of charge RSS and scrapes via the open source e-book manager Calibre.

The Kindle DRM, like all the e-book DRM out there, is weak and can be removed easily by readily available scripts. The current stream of commercially available e-books is being stripped of DRM and made available continuously.

So, the available readers are open for sharing.

E-books are tiny, mostly less than 2 MB uncompressed. It will always be easy to transfer lots of books quickly over any decent network link. Because the content is text, it is never going to become out of date and need to be re-ripped at a higher sampling rate. The analog hole, which is very real and relevant for all forms of media, is massive for books since the content can be OCR'ed or even retyped with relative ease.

So, current and future e-books are not protected effectively against copying.

I don't think the no-book-lending scenario has any chance of happening.

The free market will ultimately decide. They can't lock us down when someone else will make a reader where you CAN copy things.

But first, the free market will have to dismantle the government protections that enforce monopoly rights for authors. That will only happen when we find a better system. Subscriptions may be that system.

Nah. In the future people won't think that lending books is "nasty and wrong." They'll think it's silly. They'll ask "why would I do that, when I can just give him a copy?"

One of the key points that come up all the time with these 'physical goods vs. digital goods' discussions is that the latter can be distributed endlessly.

Why is there no way for me to give something I bought to my friend, digital or not? We have a digital currency now that claims that I cannot both send you money and keep it at the same time. Why isn't this possible with my mp3s, ebooks and movies?

Emacs Shrugged? Stallman has more in common with Ayn Rand than people realize!

Major flaws in both points here:

1) You can lend your Kindle out all you want and let people read your books, just as you could before. You just can't duplicate the book onto someone else's Kindle or in any other way, just as you couldn't before. This is a reasonable restriction and not any worse than it was with a physical book, which you are also prohibited from scanning, photocopying and distributing outside of fair use.

2) You can not copy/paste a physical book either. I agree that this should be allowed, but it's not a dystopian future - there is no loss over physical books here, only gain.

Perhaps Amazon should allow some sort of way to help with "fair use" citations, and maybe they should remove restrictions on public domain material. On the latter though, those are generally available for free from many sources, so the fact that you can't copy/paste on your Kindle is an inconvenience, not a dystopia.

> You can lend your Kindle out all you want and let people read your books, just as you could before.

Only until that becomes a violation of Amazon's TOS, or reading your books requires you be 'authenticated' with a rights server.

These things happen in steps and just because it works now does not imply that is will continue to work next week/month/year.

Have you actually read that this plan is in the works, or that someone at amazon intends to do it? Otherwise, it sounds an awful lot like a slippery slope fallacy.

I'll point to the music industry for prior art: Originally, the CD you purchased was your to enjoy in perpetuity unless you chose to resell it. Current 'state of the art' is either:

A. Purchase a streaming 'membership' where you only have the right to personally stream music from a remote server

B. Purchase encrypted, non-transferrable 'tracks' which will become unplayable when the company supplying them stops running their servers.

There are still avenues (Amazon mp3) which do not take this approach (DRM), but you still cannot legally resell the goods you purchased.

To say that there are “still avenues” for buying music without DRM is a grotesque distortion of history.

For the longest time it was impossible to buy any (mainstream) music without DRM from anywhere online. This is no longer true. New services (like Amazon MP3) now sell music without DRM and old services (like iTunes) also switched over to selling music without DRM.

Music is the clearest example that this issue is quite a bit more complicated and that working towards more freedom is possible, has already worked and might work again in the future.

How long was it impossible to buy mainstream music on CDs? CDs don't have DRM, and they're all-digital. Your position is the grotesque distortion of history.

Online. You could only ever buy music with DRM online. It seemed like history was trending in the direction of less freedom but that has completely changed by now. To suggest otherwise is grotesque. CDs are really irrelevant to this particular discussion.

(By the way, the labels also tried to bring DRM to CDs for quite some time. I think they stopped doing that, too. I’m not so sure because I didn’t buy any new music on CD ever since I could buy all the un-DRMed music I wanted online.)

you may not be familiar with this episode - they tried numerous methods of DRM'ing CDs. Some were circumventable with black marker. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sony_BMG_copy_protection_rootki...

I was, but none of those methods even came close to working; you could "circumvent" them just by putting the CD into a computer running an unexpected operating system, because they all had to be compatible with existing CD players.

DRM has passed the music scene for individual purchases. I didn't accept either of those propositions you mentioned, so I purchased CDs until DRM went away.

Now, I get the bonus of being able to buy just one track.

I would say the people's will is doing nicely in the music industry, even given how hard the RIAA has fought it. I suspect books will follow as people determine what the new norms are and companies find a way to flourish or die therein.

I'm a little unclear why you are referencing patent law.

Anyhow, it seems strange that you feel like you have a right to something produced by someone else. I'm not sure they should be able to make laws making circumvention illegal. But, aren't you complaining because you can't access someone else's work in a manner that you think is convenient?

The whole "our rights are being squashed because I can't share my ebook with you" argument reeks a little too much of entitlement for me to get behind it.

Entitlement is indeed a pretty useless concept in this context.

Are you "entitled" to lend a paper book to someone. Publisher say no, and they are backed up with the force of law in some countries.

Are you "entitled" to read a book out loud? The Authors Guild says no.

Are you "entitled" to sing a song out loud? ASCAP says no.

Are you "entitled" to sell a CD that you own? Music publishers say no.

Eventually I'll might get to something to which you do think you are "entitled", and smart money bets there is someone in the content industry who wants to deprive you of it, and someone in the legislature willing to make you a criminal if you if you try. The slippery slpe has been well documented for a long time.

BTW, if you haven't already recognized it, this discussion is about much more than just Amazon's TOS.

This whole 'entitlement' angle is just wrong thinking here.

The fundamental is that technological advance has given us something good, that we did not have before, for free. The sensible question is, how can we best benefit from it.

Are we entitled to the invention of the car? Are we entitled to comfortably travel at faster than walking pace? The question seems meaningless, let alone unhelpful.

I don't think that's necessarily the sensible question.

Aamazon built the kindle. It is their to decide what to do with it. You and I have no right to usurp their product because we want to alter the benefit. If you don't like the DRM or the features, don't use the product, or start a competitor to the Kindle.

Please don't expand my comment to any other industries. There are certain safety and utility businesses that require regulation. I don't think being able to electronically download a book over a propriety network using a proprietary device (that someone chose to purchase) is one of those.

If it comes to be that a significant majority of the book market is locked by DRM schemes, then no, Amazon ought not have the right to do as they please, and a regulatory agency should be established to ensure fair and equitable access to the materials.

Education, water, electricity, communication, and healthcare are all fine and proper examples of what happens when incumbents reach "escape velocity" and their past innovations turn into today's rent seeking.

Considering all the abuses that giant media companies visit on us daily with attacks on "pirates", bittorrent, etc. maybe you should be providing us with concrete proof that there this is no such plan in the works.

I'll take more time than I should to respond to your comment. It doesn't deserve to be in this discussion, as it's just a knee-jerk reaction with little substance.

In short, I'll just say this:

* "media companies" is an unnecessarily broad category. But saying "books' rights owners" would invalidate your entire point. Now, you could have pointed out that the MPAA and RIAA felt they had no choice but to lock things down and "attack". Then you could have pointed out the similarity in contexts between their situation and the books' rights groups. Then it would have been reasonable (although a huge stretch, IMO) to suggest that the books' rights groups may make similar decisions. But you chose not to, which leads me to my next two points:

* you cannot prove a negative (this is a big one, so you might want to re-read it)

* your tone is overly emotional and inflammatory, something that at once weakens your points and makes me not like you very much

I'm not sure why you were downvoted. I suppose the counterargument would be that you can't lend just one book at a time, or something similar. However, that is as much a consequence of packing all your books into one device as it is amazon's fault.

I don't see why people would expect a business to be run in a method that yields no tangible benefits (why does amazon or penguin want you to share books?), but could have consequences (reduced sales).

Sometimes it seems like people are shocked when companies act in their best interests. It's very strange.

The point of the article is in fact that because the companies have acted in their (perceived) best interests, we have lost freedom.

And that maybe we should care.

Look, I love the law as much as my fellow citizen but this is ridiculous. If you don't like the restrictions placed on you by Amazon, don't obey them! Just break the DRM and give your books to whoever you please. Until Amazon actually manages to track and prosecute people who do this, which doesn't exactly seem likely, you haven't lost anything at all.

You are a human with free will. You can choose to do whatever you think is ethical and rational. If you think it's ethical to give books to other people, and you aren't going to suffer for it, then why aren't you doing it? I think it's really weird that we can sit here on Hacker News and talk about these arbitrary restrictions that Amazon has made as if they are actually restricting something. They are restrictions in name only.

Have you ever heard of Milgram's experiment? People will actually torture each other if commanded by a higher authority, much less not share a book :)

Have we really lost any freedoms? You can still get any book on paper, and will for the near future. You can still swap books all you like.

If people are willing to give up their right to loan books in exchange for the convenience of eBooks, it sounds more like an exchange of freedom for convenience. But that's a choice people make, which is something I can't get too worked up over.

I also don't buy an argument that paper books are going away any time soon. There are huge swaths of people 40-and-up who will never read ebooks (and I suspect that is the demographic that reads more "books" than the younger set)

Have we really lost any freedoms?

Not per se. But it is withdrawal of extra freedoms/features that electronic media and the internet provide e.g. nearly-free copying and distribution and random access.

There are many possible (and legal) applications that are made impossible, even for the buyer of a book. Think e.g. of corpus linguistics, applications for automatic annotation of phrases, etc.

The media companies are trying to turn what is new and provides enormous potential benefits to the population into what is old, because it is easier to stay with old business methods than to reinvent yourself.

"Not per se. But it is withdrawal of extra freedoms/features that electronic media and the internet provide e.g. nearly-free copying and distribution and random access."

This just means that these attributes (sharing, copying, etc.) are not something inherent to the medium. While I agree that these restrictions can prevent cool features from being enabled, it's a stretch for me to believe I'm entitled to those features.

It also sounds like you're projecting a little onto the media companies with your last paragraph. Isn't it just as reasonable that they are clinging to old business methods because the new ones may cause their non-existence? In that sense, they are acting in rational self preservation.

These restrictions are not only preventing "cool features", they are preventing progress. You seem resigned to that fate, but I for one am not.

What progress?

This just means that these attributes (sharing, copying, etc.) are not something inherent to the medium.

They are precisely inherent to any digital medium.

That's what some find so galling. Part of the point being made here is that you need to resort to cumbersome kludges to prevent people from enjoying the opportunities that are already enabled by the medium.

We have lost no freedoms. Using a Kindle and subsequently agreeing to the terms of service are voluntary. If you feel strongly about sharing books, don't use ebooks.

That sort of reasoning works fine right up until there are only ebooks. Then there's no alternative, and the terms of service are effectively no longer voluntary.

When has that happened though? Music, arguably the first form of media to go digital, has also gone non-DRM. What about the Internet, the largest collection of non-DRM information ever in the history of humankind? How about freely available lectures, via services like Open Courseware? Or distribution of virtually any kind of media via archive.org? That's not even going into non-legal methods of exchange.

For the content you want, there may one day be no alternative, but I find it unlikely. The trend through all of RMS's posturing and windbagging has been more and more free exchange of information than there ever has been.

Take a university class. Odds are that your required textbook is not Open Courseware.

Most people don't seem to understand this until they encounter it on a close and personal level -- as rms has.

> If you feel strongly about sharing books, don't use ebooks.

I understand what you're saying, but I feel like I should point out that there is a very large corpus of ebooks available that are not customer-hostile. (feedbooks.com, pragprog and oreilly, etc.) In fact, the Kindle hardware works great with them. It's only content purchased from Amazon which is objectionable.

Those who purchased a kindle have gained based on the only meaningful metric: they valued the benefits of an exchange over its costs. Freedom was not "lost".

1) except that lending someone your kindle isn't like lending them a book -- it's lending them your entire library at once

2) you are comparing "copying" text from a sheet of paper to an electronic device. that doesn't make any sense at all. people who view text on an electronic screen are used to being able to select and copy it. that was never possible, nor will it ever be with a physical paper book.

Copying an ebook is conceptually the same as photocopying a physical book, or duplicating a physical music album. It's just easier and faster to copy a computer file, or cut-and-paste a portion of it.

It's not anyone's fault but your own that your entire readable library lives in one physical device. Asking to change copyright to allow you to "photocopy" someone else's work and give it to a friend is unacceptable.

Now that I've played devil's advocate, I'm not a big fan of the technological measures that attempt to prevent piracy. I believe that the solution is pricing digital media so that it's more 'disposable' - that is, price it so cheaply that pirating and even lending is too much trouble.

Music is already 99 cents. It can't get more disposable than that. Apps in the iphone and Android stores are also very cheap (most are under $10).

Piracy hasn't slowed down.

Are you sure that you can legally lend your Kindle if it contains copyrighted work? I would be surprised if this wasn't also covered by the strict sense of the law (not that I am suggesting that anyone would ever prosecute for it).

Interesting question. I'm not lawerly enough to answer outright, but regardless of the current law I don't that a case against someone lending their Kindle would ever be upheld. It's analgous to saying letting someone use your computer is a violation of your OS license.

Like you say though, likely a moot point.

Ok, one good counter-point below: You can't loan an individual book (other than through the Amazon program) using a Kindle.

Folks, this is not an Orwellian conspiracy, but rather a limitation of matter and energy which is a consequence of the tradeoffs we make when we decide to use an ereader and put all our books in one device.

The kindle DRM is pointless and an idiot tax ;). All it takes is one visit to library.nu or similar sight and all books are free, and pdfs.

Just a reminder - you can always stick your Kindle in a photocopier. Works quite well!

The good old analog hole.

I wonder if the Kindle will ever add something like this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/EURion_constellation

In a couple decades it will be plugged by neural implants. ;-)

No one will give a screwey - we'll all be fucked up on eLSD then...

Then scan that photocopy in and OCR it. We've come full circle.

Skip a step and scan the Kindle.

I was actually thinking about skipping that and reading straight off the screen bus using a logic analyer :)

Note that a software that doesn't let you copy and paste doesn't prevent you from copying text. You can copy it manually to a computer, or write it by hand. This is poorly designed software.

If there were a law preventing you from copying the text, now that would be a problem. But there is no such law as far as I know. In fact, I live in a country where, so far, such copying of any book is expressly authorised as long as it is for private use.

As for the kindle, I don't understand which of its function couldn't be performed just as well by a small laptop, but I barely know what it looks like, so I may be wrong.

> As for the kindle, I don't understand which of its function couldn't be performed just as well by a small laptop

The principle selling point of the Kindle is that you can read for days on end without hurting your eyes. Laptop screens tend to hurt people's eyes a lot when used for reading many hours at a time. It's also smaller, lighter, more convenient and far cheaper than any laptop.

> but I barely know what it looks like, so I may be wrong.

You're being downvoted because you're talking about things you know nothing about - things that take < 5 seconds to find out. Please do some research before taking time to bash products or complain on HN.

I read entire novels on my laptop. I know what I'm talking about when it comes to reading. What you're saying is not obvious. You can't use an Internet research to know how something feels. I wasn't bashing anything. Please take the time to actually read what I write and don't assume I mean anything else than what I actually write.

All you need to do is throw 'why kindle' into a search engine. Or look for a bit into what it is; the main feature is the e-ink screen, and that is not by coincidence.

The function of the Kindle system (as opposed to the hardware), is that one can obtain current books easily for a fee and read them on your computer.

At least that's what it does for me. I am careful to only buy books that I am okay with not reading multiple times (ie, if Amazon yanks them or Amazon itself dies), though.

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