Read an e-book to your child, go to jail?

By Robert Menta- 12/26/00

A number of months ago I did a story called "Copyright Office Ruling Possible Setback to Fair Use". In that article I wrote this:

In an effort to give copyright holders more protection, the US Copyright office decided to allow only two narrow exemptions to a new federal law that gives copyright holders a whole new level of protection. The law, which makes it illegal for Web users to hack through any barriers, copyright holders put around their content, will be in effect for three years.



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This content, which extends to everything from music to books to films, caused a firestorm among libraries and universities who argued that the law is too broad and media companies could use the new law to restrict their traditional rights.

The point of the article was not that copyright holders don't have a right to protect their interests, they do. It was that the law allowed too much leeway for abuse by allowing copyright holders to use technology to redefine the concept known as fair use.

How? Well, the fundamentals of fair use essentially allow the person who purchases copyright material to share it with others. That means you the buyer can read the content to another individual, trade the content, copy the content on cassette, etc. Not only have we enjoyed these practices for decades, but we accept them as a matter-of-fact right.

Copyright holders, on the other hand, love to have everyone pay several times for the same content. Simply put, it makes them more money. In their greed, conglomerates and oligopolies have come up with the recent notion that you no longer own the book or CD you purchased at the store, you are only renting it. Therefore you are subject to multiple charges.

Prior to technology, there was no way to enforce this notion so it was moot. Fair use was fair use and no matter how many times the major music labels screamed back in the 1980's that cassettes were killing the industry, they found no sympathy in the courts or in the marketplace.

But now, with digital content like e-books and MP3 music, there is technology coming to put such a notion to practice. The ruling by the copyright office opened the door for the corporations to in practice take away the fair use rights of the consumer by fully protecting any technology that strips it. Publishers can now write legal clauses saying you are forbidden to do this and that with the content you purchased. If you override the technology that is supposed to prevent this with shareware you download from the Internet, you become a felon.

But come on, are copyright holder really going to put outlandish restrictions on how you use the books and music you buy? Will the abuses the libraries and universities fear actually happen? Folks, that is the point of my article to you today. It already started.

The example I am about to show you is quite atrocious, one I was alerted to in a recent posting on Slashdot. The posting points out the fine print in the licensing of Adobe's new e-book product Glassbook, a snapshot of which you will find below. Glassbook has taken a number of literary classics in the public domain and digitized them. They then put these restrictions on what they deem fair use. It is almost comical if not surreal:

Copy:
No text selections can be copied from the book to the clipboard.

Print:
No printing is permitted on this book.

Lend:
This book cannot be lent or given to someone else.

Give:
This book cannot be given to someone else.

Read Aloud:
This book cannot be read aloud.

According to Adobe, if you read Alice in Wonderland from their e-book to your son or daughter, you have violated their copyright. If you use shareware to copy a passage of it for your kids book report, you have committed a criminal act as now defined by the US Copyright Office.

Remember the student in Oklahoma whose dorm room was raided because he downloaded music from Napster? (see Oklahoma Student to be Sacrificial Lamb in MP3 Wars). He just recently plead guilty to a misdemeanor in that case so he wouldn't drive his family bankrupt in legal fees. In an effort to exert their self-proclaimed rights, oligopolies and self-interest groups like the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) look for individuals to be their "examples". People they ruin to scare off others and dictate their vision of right and wrong. A vision solely driven by the singular goal of increasing profit.

Want to hear the ultimate irony? Adobe pulled the transcription of Alice in Wonderland from Project Gutenberg, a library of electronically stored books, mostly classics that can be downloaded for free and viewed off-line. The goal is to make these books free and accessible to all people, specifically those who have limited access to these works. Adobe downloaded the books for free, repackaged it, and are stripping away the open permissions that Project Gutenberg already endowed upon you. The right to freely read and pass on fine literature because it will better the world.

See what we mean by self-proclaimed copyrights? Take what's in the public domain, plant a flag on it like it was the Oklahoma land rush, claim ownership for your company, make up your own restrictions, and take people to court if they don't pay up. This is what the implications of the US Copyright Office's recent decision have brought upon us.

Our advice? Start by doing the worst thing you can do to Adobe's new e-book - don't buy it. Then go to Project Gutenberg's site and download a few stories.

A screenshot from the Adobe Glassbook Reader Version 2.0 for Windows.

Other Stories:
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The Top 10 Tested MP3 Portables For Xmas
Did Napster Take Radiohead's New Album to Number 1?
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