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The media hypes Amazon’s new tablet “Kindle Fire” (see the commercial above) as the first credible competitor to Apple’s iPad. And some, such as Forbes’ Timothy B. Lee, celebrate the Kindle Fire as “the Triumph of Open Source“. Comparing the tablet market to the early PC market, where “the 1980s were a period of intense competition and rapid innovation, followed by the 1990s when Windows became utterly dominant and the pace of innovation slowed”, Lee argues that

[t]hings are different now because both the browser and OS markets are becoming dominated by open source software. In the browser market, the two fastest-growing browsers—Safari and Chrome—are both built on top of WebKit, an open source project started by Apple. And now Amazon’s new browser, called Silk, is also built on WebKit. It’s unlikely Amazon would have entered the browser market if they’d had to build a browser from scratch.

This leads him to the conclusion that, even if the market may be dominated by a single platform such as Android or WebKit, there will still be competition between several companies that build products based upon the underlying, shared code. Read the rest of this entry »

Sarah Houghton-Jan is the Assistant Director for the San Rafael Public Library. She runs a blog titled Librarian in Black. And Sarah Houghton-Jan is angry:

I care about digital content in libraries.  And I am about to lose my cool in a big way.  No more patience, no more waiting for advocacy groups to do their work, and certainly no more trusting vendors to negotiate good deals for us with the publishers.   I am angry, I am informed, and I am ready to fight.

The reason for Houghton-Jan’s anger is that the US publishing house HarperCollins introduced a limit of 26 lifetime uses per copy (see “Library eBook Revolution, Begin“). To be clear: per ebook copy. Such an attempt of using private licensing agreements together with Digital Rights Management (DRM) technologies for controling usage is not new in the realm of electronic books (see “The Kindle Controversy“). Only the boldness of HarperCollins terms of use is. What Pamela Samuelson fears in the context of Google Books, namely that it could be treated as a “precedent” by publishers for charging libraries per-page-copying fees more generally (see “Pamela Samuelson on the Future of Books in Cyberspace“), seems now to become reality anyway.

Sarah Houghton-Jan, however, chose to not only complain but to channel her anger into an impressively productive form of protest, which recently spread all over the web: The eBook User’s Bill of Rights. The main points read as follows: Read the rest of this entry »

Books are the most traditional of all copyrightable works. Copyright as a legal institution was developed particularly for protecting authors and publishers of books. Over the years, copyrights have been granted to creators of all kinds of works, ranging from music over films to software. While most of these other types of copyrighted works are strongly affected by new forms of content production and distribution in the course of the so-called “digital revolution”, books seem to have been relatively immune to the very same technological changes – at least until Google started with the mass digitization of books and Amazon launched its increasingly popular e-book-reader “Kindle” (see “Google Books and the Kindle Controversy: Merging Conflict Arenas?“).

Especially Google Book Search (GBS) has inspired intense controversies between supporters, painting the highly optimistic picture of universal access to all books ever published for virtually everybody, and adversaries, fearing the rise of a knowledge monopolist, who exploits authors, publishers and readers alike. The best and most comprehensive comparison of both lines of argumentation I have encountered so far is a recent piece by Berkeley’s Pamela Samuelson titled “Google Book Search and the Future of Books in Cyberspace” (PDF).

After identifying overly restrictive copyright as the major impediment for any mass digitization project, Samuelson turns to the pros and cons of the GBS settlement in its current, amended version. As optimistic predictions she lists the following: Read the rest of this entry »

Interestingly enough, two of the most visible current copyright related conflicts are in the realm of the most classic of all copyrighted media: books. On the one hand, Google books tries to digitize and eventually offer online nothing less then all books ever published. Aside the fundamental question, whether companies should be allowed doing this, the main controversy is around how to compensate authors and publishers of books that are out of stock and of orphan works (see “Google vs. Copyright Collectives“). On the other hand, the book as a medium itself may be changed by e-book reader such as Sony’s “Daily Edition” or Amazon’s “Kindle” (see “Sony’s E-Reader vs. Kindle“). Both allow direct wireless download of books directly to the reader via mobile phone networks. The latter raises a lot of controversy because of its restrictive digital rights management (“Kindle Controvery Continued: ‘Exit’ and ‘Voice’“) and Amazon’s ability to delete books from the reader even after their purchase (see NYT).

In spite of their common field of digital books and publishing, these two controversies evolved relatively independent from one another until very recently Amazon, Yahoo and Microsoft formed the “Open Book Alliance” (see CNET) to counter Google Books. Googles rejoinder was an alliance with Sony (see CBC). This merger of conflicts will, I predict, alter the dynamics in both controversies. Read the rest of this entry »

After Amazon had decided to give authors and publishers the ability to disable the text-to-speech function on any or all of their e-books available for the Kindle 2 (see “The Kindle Controversy: No Right to be a Reader?“), public protests were mostly directed at the US Authors Guild, which had demanded these changes. A “Reading Rights Coalition“, which represents people who cannot read print, even protested outside the Authors Guild headquarters in New York City at 31 East 32nd Street on April 7.

Yesterday, Richard M. Stallman, the founder and president of the Free Software Foundation, critized these protests on the public Access-to-Knowledge (A2K) mailing list as being “directed at the wrong target”. He would rather see Amazon in the focus of critique: Read the rest of this entry »

The second version of Amazon’s relatively successful ebook-reader “Kindle” comes with a new feature, the so-called “text-to-speech function”: it enables ebooks to be read aloud. So, while you are cooking or driving to work this feature allows you to continue “reading” a book. Computers have had this feature for a long time (e.g. to read aloud PDF documents) but the Kindle with its specialization on ebooks is the first to bring it to the world of mobile devices. Or better, it could be the first.  Soon after the president of the US Authors Guild, Roy Blount, had publicly critized the feature in a New York Times piece titled “The Kindle Swindle” as a potential threat to audio books, Amazon gave in and agreed to disable text-to-speech on a title-by-title basis at the rightsholder’s request (see Slashdot). In his blog, Creative Commons founder Lawrence Lessig describes this as “caving into bullies“, emphasizes that Amazon did not violate any exclusive copyrights with this feature and bemoans that “users and innovators have less freedom“. Read the rest of this entry »

The Book

Governance across borders: transnational fields and transversal themes. Leonhard Dobusch, Philip Mader and Sigrid Quack (eds.), 2013, epubli publishers.
October 2014
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