{ thinking out loud about the things i care about }

Posts Tagged ‘copyright’

Amazon Fail of a Different Sort

Friday, July 24th, 2009

I love the idea of the Kindle as a device that can instantly connect me to any and every book out there. At least 60% of my reading takes place on a computer of some sort, either through pdf ebooks or fanfic. All my news comes from the screen, and the idea of having a device built for comfortable reading that fits in my purse and links me wirelessly to all that is an extremely appealing thought.

Tethered devices are not necessarily all good, though, as Kindle owners are discovering. Tethered devices don’t only mean you can reach in and grab what you want from the cloud, it also means the cloud can reach down to your Kindle and grab it back.

Recently, Amazon remotely removed digital copies of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm because of a rights issue, refunding all the users their $0.99 back. The symbolism was not lost on anyone, particularly the news media and the affected Kindle customers. The uproar has been significant enough that Amazon released a statement promising they will stop deleting the already-downloaded books on user’s Kindles when they delete rights-violating content from their archives.

This is not the first time Amazon has removed books from user’s Kindles, but it got the most press for the obvious ironic reasons. Some people don’t get why this is an issue, but consider how this affects ownership. When you buy a physical book and take it home, even if it’s pulled off the shelves the minute you walk out the store, no one comes round demanding the return of the already purchased ones. Once you’ve bought it, you own that copy. Book burning is a serious yet mostly symbolic affair, largely because copies always survive. Someone finds a copy in their attic or hides one under their bed.

A world where books are tethered to devices is problematic because it allows someone to take back those books — all of them — quickly and efficiently, without warning. You may not even realize it’s missing. The ebooks you buy don’t really belong to you, not the same way real paper books do. This is how book burning will look in the future, when everything is published via data instead of as ink. Remember how much AmazonFail sucked? Think how much worse it would have been if someone had ticked the wrong box in their content admin tool and deleted all those books from thousands of people’s personal libraries. Some day (and probably some day soon) someone will write a letter or make a phone call complaining about some book or other, and an underpaid and overworked manager will log on and click the delete button without really considering the ramifications, and next time there might not be a way to take it back.

This problem doesn’t just affect books. It affects applications (Apple, a company I love dearly, has some serious issues in this regard when it comes to iPhone apps and it makes me furious), music, and gaming every day. This is the way companies will seek to control their copyright in the future, with tethered devices and back doors.

Please do not hand wave this issue off. Pay attention to it, because it affects everyone. Understand that an age of cloud-computing is descending where everything is computer-based and everything is connected and everything is stored somewhere else. Google docs are wonderful tools, but Google can easily remove the content you’ve built or the service entire. Livejournal can delete years of personal journaling, writing and art, and no matter what you say or how loudly you complain they don’t have to give it back to you. That “right” is build into the user agreements no one reads but everyone accepts when they sign up for a service.

Be aware of how the world is changing, not just how it benefits but also how it restricts. We’re not just talking about books and music, we’re talking about the fundamentals of ownership.

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Lexicon Lawsuit – A Mini Update

Wednesday, April 16th, 2008

It’s only day two of the trial and I’m still not ready to do a more in-depth update on what has gone down so far or lend my “civilian” opinion to the masses.

For regular updates on the happenings, go to Fandom Wank (here for day one, here for day two): if you stay out of the comments and just read the posts, there’s quite a few informative links which sometimes lead to other informative links.

The only thing I want to comment on now is this quote by Judge Robert Patterson (as taken from this Wall Street Journal Law Blog entry):

“I’m concerned that this case is more lawyer-driven than it is client-driven … The fair use people are on one side, and a large company is on the other side … The parties ought to see if there’s not a way to work this out, because there are strong issues in this case and it could come out one way or the other. The fair use doctrine is not clear.

I’m bringing it up now so you can think about it before you get into the rest of the case … Maybe it’s too late; maybe we’ve gone too far down the road. But a settlement is better than a lawsuit.”

The only parts of the above I’ve removed are the “he said” bits that are outside the direct quotations from Patterson.

I have rather been thinking the same thing myself, lately.  I think the fair use people have a real war to fight in this era — one that I entirely support over all — but I don’t think this was the best case for them to have picked for their landmark.   The thing of it is, I really believe it was in bad taste and highly disrespectful for Steve to have tried to published the Lexicon (a move I think he probably regrets now), but I have always supported liberal fair use laws and will always support fair use laws; I honestly don’t think anything about the Lexicon is detrimental to the Harry Potter brand (certainly not any more than a lengthy and bitter legal battle will be) or JKR’s Scottish Book.  Do I think the Lexicon is particularly useful as a reference book?  Not really.  Do I think it unfairly or aggrievedly violates copyright, considering its fundamental purpose as a quick-reference book?  Not really.

I am also wondering whether or not suing was the right choice for WB or JKR.  There is certainly a chance the Lexicon will be allowed, and the massive media coverage of the court battle only gives a whole lot of “free” marketing to it if it does.  There will likely be some backlash from the fandom and (if I know this fandom at all) some sort of boycott, and the real question is whether or not that will be balanced by the increased sales driven by the media attention.  If the Lexicon had been allowed to go forward unchallenged, it might have gone largely unnoticed by the public considering it’s from a very small publishing house and targets a niche market.  I wonder if there’s a self-fulfilling prophecy at work here.

Edited to Add: A couple of new interesting posts on The Wall Street Journal Law Blog today:

Also, for a more fannish opinion, try

‘s post in

here and

‘s thoughts here.

Hmm… looks like we might be in for the long haul. 

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Leaky Picks A Side

Monday, March 24th, 2008

Steve Vander Ark gave an interview recently to BlogHogwarts (in spanish, the original English was passed along to TLC and can be found here) which prompted this post by Melissa on behalf of the Leaky staff.

An excerpt for people not interested in reading the entire summary and are just interested in the sound-bite point:

“The interview quoted above contains a number of assessments about J.K. Rowling’s intentions and what the Lexicon case means for fandom as a whole. The comments sat uneasily with many of us as soon as we learned about them, and prompted a discussion among our entire staff about Leaky’s association with the Harry Potter Lexicon, in which it became overwhelmingly clear that Steve’s thoughts on this matter and ours differ so greatly as to be polar opposites; we do not think a win for J.K. Rowling means tighter controls on fan creativity at all, and are concerned for the opposite, as well as the attempt to misportray the issues of the case as stated in sworn affadavits. So, after a few days of careful and many-sided discussion, we, as a full staff, decided that people who have such a fundamental disconnect in beliefs cannot and should not be partners in name or spirit, and two days ago informed the Lexicon that we are severing our association.”

The post by Melissa continues on to describe the Leaky staffs’ position and reasoning a little more, and to discuss the dismantling of the Floo Network, though they plan to continue to be affiliated with Accio Quote.

I would assume there will be a comment made or some discussion of this on the next episode of Pottercast. Possibly not the one due to be released tomorrow (depending on when the decision was made vs. when they taped the episode) but probably at some point it will come up. Melissa has also added:

“There have been many asking, since November, whether Steve would return to PotterCast: That answer is now no.”

Which is a loss for Pottercast, as Steve’s thoughts in the popular segment of Canon Conundrums were always interesting, and his personality complimented the Pottercast trio well in my opinion.

At this posting, the Floo Network was still operational. Obviously something like that takes time to disband, and as the affiliation is incorporated into the current Leaky CSS it will probably take some time for it to disappear entirely, especially with their key web designer on leave for college-related reasons.

It will be interesting to see what the Lexicon’s post in regards to this will be.

As for me, I’m not sure where my ultimate support in this case lies anymore. I have always been a strong supporter for creative freedom and liberal interpretation of Fair Use laws, including support for groups like Creative Commons and the Organization for Transformative Works, and I don’t honestly see how the publication of a print version of the Lexicon will in any way endanger the sales of JKR’s Scottish Book.  At the same time, I’m not sure I would qualify the Lexicon as a scholarly or transformative work, based on the current guidelines — it’s really in that blurry gray area for me.

I continue to be unusually riveted by this series of events.  Apologies to those who don’t give a damn.

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Yet Another Update on the Lexicon Lawsuit

Monday, February 11th, 2008

RDR and Steve have filed their response to the injunction filed by Warner Brothers and JKR.  As with all legal arguments, the brief is quite long, but it’s been very nicely summarized in point form by the ever patient Melissa Anelli of The Leaky Cauldron. 

A Spotty Summary and Thoughts From Me

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Update on The Lexicon Lawsuit

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2008

For those of you who don’t follow Leaky but might be curious about the current state of the lawsuit against RDR Books, a fantastic update has made by Melissa that summarizes the 1,100 page complaint filed by JKR and WB.  As it’s a summary of a 1,100 page document, it’s quite long and in two parts (Part One here and Part Two here). 

For those who have read my previous post on this subject, I add that the following section and quote as summarized by Melissa speaks directly to my point, and is an unsurprising potential side effect of a fansite’s attempt to cross the line from free distribution into profit.

9. A rule against JKR/WB would harm the fan community by “necessitating more monitoring and restriction of fan activity by copyright owners afraid of compromising their rights against infringers.”

As a fan of both JKR and The Lexicon website, I’m afraid I have to side with JKR and WB in this battle, if only because I hope the current good will between owners of copyright and their fans will continue.  I’d hate to see the cease and desist letters fly anew, all because copyright holders are freshly afraid of people profiting off their work.  A win for RDR means that other fans (both in the Harry Potter fandom and other fandoms) will likely also attempt to profit off copyrighted works, and you can be sure the copyright holders will respond to that by taking internet fandom — think fanfiction, image use, screen-grabbing, and fanart — more firmly in hold.  Part of the reason I love JKR is because she loves us just as much, and encourages us to experiment and play in her space; what a shame it would be to see that disappear over a print version of a website.

RDR has three weeks to reply to the complaint.


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