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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 »

Every day I keep adding open tabs to my browser with interesting articles on issues related to governance across borders, hoping to find the time to blog about them; only rarely, I actually manage to do so. This is why I am starting the new year with a new series called “Tagged Tabs”. To remove at least some of the open tabs in my browser I will (un)regularly present a list of commented links to interesting articles elsewhere.

(leonhard)

When EMI, the smallest of the “Big Four” major labels, announced to start selling its music without technological protection measures (“Digital Rights Management”, DRM) in 2007, the other three majors quickly saw no other possibility but to follow down this road. Flanked by Apple’s CEO Steven Jobs’s “Thoughts on Music”, this move brought an astonishingly unsuccessful decade of attempts by industry incumbents to establish DRM technologies to an end.

In theory, put forward for example by industry researchers such as Mark Stefik, DRM technologies should not only prevent illegal copying practices (“piracy”) but also allow new streams of revenue by tailoring prices individually to consumer’s needs. In praxis, however, this vision never became reality: while in the world of small and many independent labels DRM never was important (see, for example, the online-store “finetunes”, which was DRM-free from the beginning), the cartel of major labels first tried to develop industry-wide and all-embracing DRM standards in the realm of a so-called “Secure Digital Music Initiative” (SDMI). Remains of this bold attempt, which was silently shut down after only two years of existence in May 2001, can only be found in the Internet archive. Controversies between content owners and hardware producers about the necessary protection levels had delayed DRM development, whose outcome was then rejected by consumers, leading DRM-mastermind Stefik to conclude in 2007: “The situation reflects the core issue that current DRM provides no compelling benefits to consumers” (see the paper “DRM Inside”).

The only refugium, where DRM solutions still prevail, is the – far from thriving – field of mobile music: supported by all four major and hundreds of independent labels, Nokia’s bundling of phone hardware and music-flatrate entitled “comes with music” uses Microsoft’s “plays for sure” DRM solution. But even in this field DRM seems to be in retreat, since Nokia recently abandoned DRM when introducing “comes with music” in China. Ironically, Nokia spokesman Doug Dawson justified waiving copy protection measures with fighting piracy (see Economic Times):

“It’s unique for China where piracy has had a stronghold.”

Does this mean DRM measures against piracy do only make sense, where piracy is weak? While such paradox lines of reasoning seem to finally herald the end of DRM in the music industry, Michael Arrington at techcrunch nevertheless reports renewed attempts of introducing DRM through the backdoor – via watermarking and cloud computing: 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.
December 2017
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