The Danger of E-Books
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In an age where business dominates our governments and writes our laws,
every technological advance offers business an opportunity to impose new
restrictions on the public. Technologies that could have empowered us are
used to chain us instead.
With printed books,
- You can buy one with cash, anonymously.
- Then you own it.
- You are not required to sign a license that restricts your use of it.
- The format is known, and no proprietary technology is needed to read the
- You can give, lend or sell the book to another.
- You can, physically, scan and copy the book, and it's sometimes lawful
- Nobody has the power to destroy your book.
Contrast that with Amazon e-books (fairly typical):
- Amazon requires users to identify themselves to get an e-book.
- In some countries, including the US, Amazon says the user cannot
own the e-book.
- Amazon requires the user to accept a restrictive license on use of the
- The format is secret, and only proprietary user-restricting software can
read it at all.
- An ersatz “lending” is allowed for some books, for a limited time, but
only by specifying by name another user of the same system. No giving or
- To copy the e-book is impossible due to
Digital Restrictions Management
in the player and prohibited by the license, which is more restrictive than
- Amazon can remotely delete the e-book using a back door. It used this
back door in 2009 to delete thousands of copies of George Orwell's 1984.
Even one of these infringements makes e-books a step backward from
printed books. We must reject e-books until they respect our freedom.
The e-book companies say denying our traditional freedoms is
necessary to continue to pay authors. The current copyright system
supports those companies handsomely and most authors badly. We can
support authors better in other ways that don't require curtailing our
freedom, and even legalize sharing. Two methods I've suggested
E-books need not attack our freedom (Project Gutenberg's e-books don't),
but they will if companies get to decide. It's up to us to stop them.
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