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EBooks are "attacking our freedom"

Richard Stallman

By Barry Collins

Posted on 8 Jun 2011 at 09:54

Free software guru Richard Stallman has called on consumers to reject eBooks until they "respect our freedom".

In an article entitled The Dangers of eBooks (PDF), the founder of the Free Software Foundation warns that "technologies that could have empowered us are used to chain us instead".

He highlights the DRM embedded in eBooks sold by Amazon as an example of such restrictions, citing the infamous case of Amazon wiping copies of George Orwell's 1984 from users' Kindles without permission.

He points to other examples of how buyers' freedoms are eroded. "Amazon requires users to identify themselves to get an eBook," Stallman claims, pointing out that printed book buyers can walk into a bookstore and make a cash purchase anonymously.

He also claims the eBook format used by Amazon is "secret", and "only proprietary user-restricting software can read it at all".

Stallman claims that eBook retailers can still support authors and retain buyers' freedoms by distributing tax funds to authors based on their popularity, or by "designing players so users can send authors anonymous voluntary payments".

"EBooks need not attack our freedom, but they will if companies get to decide," Stallman concludes. "It's up to us to stop them."

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User comments

he is right up to a apoint. If that trend continues it will reach a point where ebook sellers competitors won't be each other or phyical shops but priates.

By JamesD29 on 8 Jun 2011

It is rather disappointing that Amazon chose a proprietary format. However, I don't see any way around identifying yourself, and I'm not sure that I really care about that. It does have the advantage that if my Kindle gets stolen or trashed then I can re-download all my books again.

By jgwilliams on 8 Jun 2011

Stalman, thet already know who you are!

ebooks have revolutionised my reading habits. I have bought 131 ebooks since getting my kindle in September 2010, and if the authors aren't benefitting from this revenue then it is nothing to do Amazon, it is with the publishers.

If we consider my paperback novel buying habits, then I used to buy real books from amazon, or more commonly, from supermarkets in the 3 for £5 section or similar deals. Immediatly after reading i would then let my friends and family borrow. When returned, they would make a final journey in one of the weekly charity bags that drop through our door. Now the point is that as many as 6 people would read each of these books, yet only one payment would ever have been made!

Contrast this to drm ebooks, and hey presto! More revenue for the publishers, as now, if my friends want to read it, they now either have to buy it themselves, or borrow from a library, which none of them ever have time to visit, having working lives.
Ok the wife can still read it as she has a kindle tied to the same account.

The biggest benefit to me is that my library is now mobile. I appreciate that this is not a part of the argument, but no longer trolling around a ruck sack with my essential reference manuals in is helping my arthritus no end, and to put it back on topic, has also meant I have happily re-bought these manuals in a weightless format, bringing even more money to the authors.

Am i worried that Amazon know my reading habits? No! I am actually happy as they have suggested many titles of a similer nature to those which I have purchased, and gone on to purchase, thus creating more revenue for authors I probably would have never heard of otherwise. I have no more concern for hiding my purchase habits of the latest paperback novel I bought at Asda not 2 hours ago. You see I dont tend to carry £250 cash around with me when getting the weekly shopping, so i paid by debit card, which is recorded against the transaction. Later on, I will go oline and enter the details of the purchase receipt to hopefully learn my  total shopping trip is not 10% cheaper than else where, so I can print off another voucher, which will be used to put another book in my basket next week.

Wether you buy a real book, or an ebook, as a consumer, you have the choice! Amazon did not force me to buy a kindle and they still sell real books. Either way, you can't buy from them without them knowing who you are, as they have to deliver them. 

I suggest that Mr Stalman keeps on visiting his local bookstore and paying cash. For me, this simply isnt an option. My local bookstore is now 11 miles away, since Borders went the way of the DoDo, and I fear that cash wont be that far behind.

Completly of topic? ebooks are the only possible option i found to enable my partially sighted son to read normally, and that is the ability to resize the text, worth every penny of DRM tie in possible.

By markcr6 on 8 Jun 2011

The file format and drm is what pushed me into choosing a Sony Reader rather than a Kindle.

As mentioned elsewhere I don't mind a company knowing what I'm reading, I just don't want to get tied into a particular company for the rest of my life. Look at all the iPhone or Android users who have spent a fortune on apps which aren't transferable, if you've sunk a hundred quid on apps what phone you gonna buy next? Obv, the one which lets you access them still.

I was looking to purchase a book by Alastair Reynolds recently, what annoyed me was the Kindle version was more expensive that the paperback, how can this be? Going green and moving digital, no printing and shipping costs but the digital version was more... the publishers really need to sort this out, the music companies are cottoning on to the fact the value of an album is about a fiver rather than the £14 HMV used to charge, to me an ebook should be between £2 and £3, until they hit that price point on the titles I'm interested in I won't be buying them.

By Deano on 8 Jun 2011

Is it just me..

or is that Jim Royle (Ricky Tomlinson) without his specs?

Back on topic:
DRM = bad.

I've just finished spending a week burning and labelling all my tracks from the now-defunct MS music store as we can no longer download digital licenses, and there was no other way to move the music to my NAS. Painstaking and irritating, to say the least.

By TheHonestTruth on 8 Jun 2011

Stalman, thet already know who you are!

ebooks have revolutionised my reading habits. I have bought 131 ebooks since getting my kindle in September 2010, and if the authors aren't benefitting from this revenue then it is nothing to do Amazon, it is with the publishers.

If we consider my paperback novel buying habits, then I used to buy real books from amazon, or more commonly, from supermarkets in the 3 for £5 section or similar deals. Immediatly after reading i would then let my friends and family borrow. When returned, they would make a final journey in one of the weekly charity bags that drop through our door. Now the point is that as many as 6 people would read each of these books, yet only one payment would ever have been made!

Contrast this to drm ebooks, and hey presto! More revenue for the publishers, as now, if my friends want to read it, they now either have to buy it themselves, or borrow from a library, which none of them ever have time to visit, having working lives.
Ok the wife can still read it as she has a kindle tied to the same account.

The biggest benefit to me is that my library is now mobile. I appreciate that this is not a part of the argument, but no longer trolling around a ruck sack with my essential reference manuals in is helping my arthritus no end, and to put it back on topic, has also meant I have happily re-bought these manuals in a weightless format, bringing even more money to the authors.

Am i worried that Amazon know my reading habits? No! I am actually happy as they have suggested many titles of a similer nature to those which I have purchased, and gone on to purchase, thus creating more revenue for authors I probably would have never heard of otherwise. I have no more concern for hiding my purchase habits of the latest paperback novel I bought at Asda not 2 hours ago. You see I dont tend to carry £250 cash around with me when getting the weekly shopping, so i paid by debit card, which is recorded against the transaction. Later on, I will go oline and enter the details of the purchase receipt to hopefully learn my  total shopping trip is not 10% cheaper than else where, so I can print off another voucher, which will be used to put another book in my basket next week.

Wether you buy a real book, or an ebook, as a consumer, you have the choice! Amazon did not force me to buy a kindle and they still sell real books. Either way, you can't buy from them without them knowing who you are, as they have to deliver them. 

I suggest that Mr Stalman keeps on visiting his local bookstore and paying cash. For me, this simply isnt an option. My local bookstore is now 11 miles away, since Borders went the way of the DoDo, and I fear that cash wont be that far behind.

Completly of topic? ebooks are the only possible option i found to enable my partially sighted son to read normally, and that is the ability to resize the text, worth every penny of DRM tie in possible.

By markcr6 on 8 Jun 2011

@deano

VAT is payable on ebooks, hence higher prices.

By markcr6 on 8 Jun 2011

Can't fully agree with this

Sorry, I’m not fully getting the love on this one. In order to comment on this article I have had to register my details with PC Pro. Am I losing my freedom by doing so?

The “secret” or priorityness of the software is less of a problem if it can be used on multiple platforms. After all we’re not all programmers wanting to get at a programmes API to do clever stuff with it. I’d rather have different operating eco systems to push innovation than a single model which would reap monopoly profits.

I would though agree that the DRM and non sharing nature of eBooks does pose a problem but in the sense that it stunts businesses developing a sensible business model which does not reproduce the problems in the music business, which I fear is the direction that publishers are taking eBooks.

Finally, why should my taxes go towards authors? Is he arguing that eBooks should be free but paper books should incur a cost? I can’t think of a quicker way of putting the publishing houses out of business unless I’ve got this part wrong.

By Ajamu1 on 8 Jun 2011

Honest publishing of content

About the tax paying part: this is how it should work I think. http://www.ariebaris.com/homepage/blogger/archive/
2006_09_03_blogarch.asp

By spruit on 8 Jun 2011

"what annoyed me was the Kindle version was more expensive that the paperback, how can this be?"

Format conversion costs mean that there is some expense in producing eBooks. That EPUB file doesn't just appear from nowhere y'know.

By Lacrobat on 8 Jun 2011

Person on Internet uses blog to suggest world should different.

By steviesteveo12 on 8 Jun 2011

eBooks are an invitation to make exorbitant profits

@Lacrobat

Even if you plonked on conversion costs for eBooks and then add VAT, there is little justification to charge more for an eBook than a paper back version. The production, storage, distribution and download costs must be much lower than traditional book publishing.

It’s the publishing houses nonsense notion that someone will buy a hard back, then a paper back and then an eBook of the same book that keeps prices high. So long as they believe this they’ll charge exorbitant prices. If you charge lower prices one of those formats is in real danger and that is their major concern. I’ve starting to read Kindle books and I have no intention of purchasing an equivalent hard or soft copy version. I suspect that I’m not alone.

The only real books I’ll purchase are technical books as I believe that they are not fully suited to an eBook format, though I’m willing to challenge that view in the future.

By Ajamu1 on 8 Jun 2011

View from the colonies

I'm a new author and publisher on the Amazon Kindle. On the subject of DRM, Amazon allows the publisher the choice of having their books secured with DRM or NOT. We choice not to have DRM applied to our books. If the publishers do decide to have DRM applied then Amazon has a feature called lending where you can “lend” a book to someone else for a period of time. –Shameless Self Promotion Follows—Search for “Newport Investigations”. on Amazon or Smashwords. Cheers Pat Price

By LakeHavasu on 8 Jun 2011

EBooks are "attacking our freedom"

what about the fact that ebooks have geographical purchace restrictions, but dead trees do not.

Also a tax on books is a tax on knowledge

By invalidscreenname on 8 Jun 2011

markcr6 sums up what I am thinking. I got a Kindle at XMAS. I'm now on my 13th or 14th book since then.

For me personally the DRM, not be able to lend the book to someone else are non issues for me. The fact is now I read a lot more, when I go on holiday I don't have to cart around a heavy bag of books and despite VAT they books are cheaper. Though there shouldn't be VAT on e-books

By james016 on 9 Jun 2011

Thin edge of wedge...

Digital media is easier to manipulate, alter and censor than a printed book- next thing there will be bloody advertising on it.

By Martin_Kay1 on 9 Jun 2011

attacking what freedoms?

as others point out you have to register to buy (paper) books on Amazon and, in fact, all other online retailers.
although illegal in most countries you can remove the DRM and convert to a different format
in a couple of years I think commercial pressures will cause some level of a common standard
is Stallman confusing software with published works?

By hughmacd on 9 Jun 2011

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