iPodMany e-bookers believe that the publishers and other companies don’t care if people violate the DMCA while converting from one format to another. But beware! Sony is keen on the iPod business model for e-books, and when you blend hardware, software, formats and content in an iPodish way, the results could wreak havoc someday on your freedom to read. The problem could come not just from Sony but from companies whose DRM consumers “broke” to be able to enjoy books on the Reader.

Think It Can’t Happen Here? Well, consider this story out of the New York Herald Tribune–reporting that a copyright activist in France could face the equivalent of tens of thousands of dollars in fines. Jérôme Martinez’s crime? “Not only did I not use an iPod to listen to an iTunes song, but I transferred the film ‘Blade Runner’ onto my hand-held movie player. I am willing to face the consequences of what they consider an offense.” Horror of horrors, he even told others how to bypass encryption.

Yes, it’s true that Martinez and other protesters went out of their way to get arrested. Just the same, I suspect that certain moguls in Hollywood and Silicon Valley wouldn’t mind Washington getting more aggressive in enforcing the DMCA to protect monopolies, especially as ties grow between hardware and content people. Remember one of the main purposes of DRM as used today—not to protect intellectual property but to enforce monopolies. The Sony hardware-format combination just increases the risks to consumers. If the Sony Reader takes off, then rivals such as Microsoft may care a lot about their encryption being broken for use on the Reader, even by legal owners of content.

Related: Sony Reader owner up against Hollywood-bought DMCA in the TeleBlog and Sony Reader at Frankfurt Book Fair and in Manhattan, in MobileRead.


  1. I admit I don’t understand the entertainment industry. If there’s a movie by Sony Pictures on tv, it doesn’t matter if I watch it or even record it on a Panasonic television set. Why does it matter so much what device I read my ebooks on or listen to my audio books on? If I buy a book, it’s MY BOOK and I should have the right to listen to it or read it on whatever device suits me! And yet Microsoft and others will tell me I am a criminal if I use a program to break the Windows Media DRM to play an audiobook on my ipod.

    I have four different ebook readers on my handheld and on my computer and while I have had no trouble with ereader or mobipocket, adobe and microsoft reader are unbearable. In addition, I have hundreds of old Rocket ebook files that are practically useless since the Rocket reader died. You’re right, it’s all about protecting their monopolies and the customer can be damned!

  2. David Rothman said:

    Remember one of the main purposes of DRM as used today—not to protect intellectual property but to enforce monopolies.

    I have been intending to write an irresponsible rant for months and reacting to this remark provides a fine pretext. The concept of intellectual property and monopoly are deeply intertwined in legal theory. Indeed, intellectual property is usually implemented by giving the creator of an object such as a book or an invention a monopoly on its production and dissemination. This monopoly is granted by copyrights and patents and traditionally it has been of limited duration. However, the monopoly granted by copyrights has become increasingly stringent because it has been extended repeatedly.

    In essence, the author of a book is a monopolist trying to extract money from the market using a legally enforceable power of exclusivity. The advent of inexpensive communication via the internet together with digital objects such as mp3 files, program files, and e-books has put enormous pressure on this traditional economic and legal arrangement. The pressure is caused by the natural and undeterrable desire of people to freely replicate and interchange digital goods. The massive legal campaign against peer-to-peer networks makes an inconvenient and dangerous fact unavoidably clear: monopoly power is often used to create artificial scarcity that impoverishes almost everyone.

    Remarkably, all published books could be made available to all the people of the world in digital form at a relatively small incremental cost. This universal library would result in magnificent growth in the wealth of the world. Outrageously, this is not being done. Even Google’s attempt to create an incomplete and stunted version of the universal library is vociferously opposed by the so-called “Author’s Guild” and mega-publishers. These co-monopolists and scarcity mongers apparently revel in the enforced intellectual immiseration of others.

    Of course, the original rationale for copyrights was to provide an incentive for authors to create works. Authors should be rewarded. However, legally mandated artificial scarcity is an absurd, counter-productive, and flawed mechanism for ensuring compensation for authors at this time in human history. There are alternative economic mechanisms for paying creators. I encourage people to think about and propose alternative ideas because the current system based on artificial scarcity is under intense siege and will probably collapse in the coming years.

  3. Authors should be rewarded.

    They should? Why? For what? Should receptionists be awarded? Streetsweepers? Cosmonauts? The unemployed? Mothers-of-five? Ant eaters? Those who sleep less than five hours per night? The as-yet-unborn? Speakers of unspeakable words? The portrayed in a Brueghel painting?

  4. Branko Collin asked: “Should receptionists be awarded? … Cosmonauts? … Mothers-of-five? … Speakers of unspeakable words?”

    Perhaps. But I do not think that there are any Olympic events for receptionists at this time; hence, a secretary being awarded a gold medal in “best friendly greeting” or “best cordiality while answering a telephone” is currently unlikely. Yet, a receptionist may obtain a less prestigious award such as “employee of the month” from a company. I certainly do not oppose awards.

    Cosmonauts have been awarded also. For example, Yuri Gagarin was awarded with the “Order of Lenin” and that was the most prestigious award in the former Soviet Union. I do not oppose awards to cosmonauts.

    Mothers-of-five are usually quite busy. It might be tricky to schedule an award ceremony. Wikipedia says that the Dionne quintuplets (five identical sisters) brought in around $1 million for the Ontario government that ran a theme park named Quintland in 1934. That is a substantial monetary award but it did not go to the mother it went to the Canadian government.

    “Speakers of unspeakable words” are remarkable entities. If the words are truly “unspeakable” and not simply taboo or dangerous then the entity has successfully violated basic logic. Perhaps the correct response is to give the entity an award and simultaneously withhold the award.

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