A book with a complex installation procedure

At the Teleread blog, where I blog, regular visitor Roland Rohde was talking about the troubles he had with DRM, and in the run-up to his story he casually remarked that: “[the book] had a rather complicated installation routine, I can’t exactly remember what I had to do to get it working“.

A book with an installation procedure!

Now in the the days of yore (that is to say, before the mid-1990s) I would have smiled had I read that, because it would have meant that digital books were finally becoming a reality, and the teething problems we were experiencing were proof of that.

Today however, even though e-books have not caught on yet, there is no shortage of e-book standards and e-book readers, and even if you do not use these specialized items, there are enough wide-spread technologies that can be used to read electronic books, such as HTML and MP3 for file formats, and iPods and mobile phones for devices.

You know the story; this bloke John Gutenberg “invents” movable type. Publishers take authors’ books and make thousands of copies, without reimbursing the authors. Other publishers (“pirates”, as one author once called them) copy these books, not reimbursing the original publishers (or, indeed, the authors), thereby greatly upsetting these original publishers. Publishers get laws passed that evolve into so-called “copy rights”, so that other publishers can no longer “steal” from them.

Then the digital age comes along, and publishing changes from being “fairly easy, if you know what to do and own a printing press” to “so trivial, even a legless goat could do it”.

There is a popular argument that says we need DRM, because otherwise publishers won’t jump on the e-book bandwagon. Somehow the people who claim so fail to mention that readers won’t jump on the e-book bandwagon unless they can do more with e-books than with p-books.

Unless of course publishers are going to play the same sort of shell game they did with the LP/CD, where from one day to the next you could no longer buy vinyl, and had to go for CDs (at extremely inflated prices). In which case we’ll be able to do less with p-books, because there won’t be any.

Library of Forbidden Books


Photo: Het Parool, 2005.

A while ago the Parool newspaper published a series of books that used to be censored at some point in time. Their list (Dutch): Rushdie’s “Satanic Verses”, “Les liaisons dangereuses”, Brecht’s “Dreigroschenroman”, Alberto Moravia’s “Gli Indifferenti”, Marquis de Sade’s “Les Cent-Vingt journées de Sodome”, Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse-Five”, Anaïs Nin’s “Henry and June”, Edith Templeton’s “Gordon”, Fyodor Dostoevsky’s “Crime and Punishment”, and Pauline Réage’s “L’histoire d’O”.

I was going to blog about this earlier, but wanted to find some info about newspapers publishing books, which has become quite fashionable recently. Unfortunately, my Google skills wax and wane with the moon, and I couldn’t find anything. From what I remember, the trend of newspapers publishing books started in Italy (?) and became a quite profitable side-line (?) for newspapers who were otherwise experiencing declining sales (?) in an era in which shopping for printed news has become so much easier (?). If you know more, please help me out here.

The pause gave me some time to think. The ultimate act of censorship, as you know, is called copyright. Copyright allows its owners, typically publishers, but sometimes authors (and in the case of Mein Kampf: governments) to stop distribution of a book. Is that bad for the book? In some cases it is. But more explicit censorship, as in the case of the ten books listed before, also makes publication an attractive proposal; who wouldn’t want to own forbidden fruit?

Where copyright may succeed in burying unpopular ideas is with ideas that would have been unpopular anyway; boring ideas, for example. But I don’t think anyone would want to ban boring ideas, because they tend to ban themselves.

Still, now and again explicit censorship escapes the radar even in somewhat interesting cases. For Project Gutenberg I helped salvage an early edition of “De Zoon van Dik Trom” (Dick Drum’s Son), which was censored by the Nazis during their occupation of the Netherlands, and which according to a website called Verboden Boeken (forbidden books) has not been restored since. I’ll have to check and see one of these days if that is still true.

Dik Trom is (the hero of) a series of children’s books that has remained popular for well over a century. The stories are about the adventures of a village boy with a stubborn slant. Slightly picaresque, but not as much as Tom Sawyer or Pippi LÃ¥ngstrump, it is nowadays considered harmless fun. The second book of the series was censored by the Nazis because Dik’s son Jan and his friends had a snowball fight in which they divided up into two camps: the “Dutch” and the “Germans”. The reasons for that choice were simple: the Germans were considered an acceptable alternative (remember: this was before the two Great Wars in which the Dutch perception of their friendly neighbours changed considerably), and because a German black-white-red flag could easily be mimicked by the turning the Dutch red-white-blue upside down.

And of course, in the heat of the battle kids yell things like: “Away with the Germans! Long live the queen!

A more infamous example of a censored work that is no longer being reprinted is of course Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf, which is actively being censored in Europe using copyright law. Apparently our glorious leaders believe that undesirable ideas easily infect the mind of a simple minded person. I guess it takes one to know one.

On the rape of James Joyce by his grandson

Copyright is the right of an heir to destroy our culture. Don’t agree with that? Well, how about if I rephrase this to “inheritance gives an heir the control over an author’s estate, and copyright gives the author control over the works he created”?

According to The Injustice Collector, an article in The New-Yorker of June 12, James Joyce’s grandson Stephen has repeatedly suggested that he would destroy some original James Joyce works. Even if it could be argued that unpublished works are not yet property of the public (after all, that’s what unpublished means: not yet made public), there are many reasons to assume why such a feat would be equally disastrous for published manuscripts. I won’t go into these, as I already talked about them here (PDF). This entry is just about collecting evidence.

(Via mr. Flemming.)

Intelligent comment spam?

Lately I have been getting a lot of spam of the sort that the Blog in Black describes here. Usually it’s terribly easy to spot, because the spamming scum keep their keywords relevant in order to score well with Google, so it no longer freaks me out like it did the first two times. :-)

But today I saw something at the Teleread blog, where I also blog, that could either be serious comments, or spam, and I’ll be damned if I know which is which. Two guys (or rather: two personas) posting adversarial messages, relevant to the blog entry, and the only thing that connects them is an obvious below-average intelligence, and the fact that in their included URLs they both link to similar looking directories — or are they link farms?

The entry was about Australia’s plan to introduce a concept of fair dealing, a concept thus far notably absent from its copyright laws, turning Australians into even bigger criminals than most of the rest of the world.

The first commenter, called “Jack”, wrote:

Bad Idea! Hardly matters even if a law is passed. Piracy is a crime and no rule or law can make it legal. Better not to try it !

Then, after a few messages by others, “Loy” replied:

Everyone has its own rights in so called democratic country, then why not the right to pirate. Piracy is stealing somebody’s work, but that too is an art. Piracy need a tact and so if one is benefitting out of it, why to even think of banning it.

Spammers must die!

Question: copyrights on interviews

Here’s an easy one for the copyright lawyers; so easy in fact, that I probably could find out by looking it up myself. But: three out of the four questions I asked before remain unanswered, so I figured an easy one might be in order to get the keyboards rattling.

5. Who owns the copyrights to an interview?

Simple, eh? The answer is of course: the interviewer. Why? Dunno. Because.

A while ago I started the Wikipedia article on Copyright on religious works, another sneaky way to get my questions answered.

In it, I wrote about a court case in which a church claimed copyrights on writings that had been dictated to them by their gods. Dictated is perhaps too strong a word; they dreamed that they asked their gods questions: “Maaherra lost the case at this level, on the argument that the members of the receiving group had been given an original direction to the writings by selecting and formulating their questions, thus fulfilling the obligation of creative effort required to gain a copyright under U.S. law. By giving this strange twist to the judgment, the judge avoided having to rule on the existence of the space aliens, but may also have damaged the respect for the secular law as felt by Americans.”

The last sentence was later rightly removed from the article by somebody else, because it is opinion, not fact.

Oddly enough, there was an appeal, in which the “infringer” won: the judgement “was later overturned on the grounds that the Urantia Foundation was not the author, and that the sleeping subject, sometimes highly controversially called a channeler, was legally considered the author, and that the Urantia Foundation thus could not file a valid copyright renewal.”

There are two things that strike me as odd here:

1) That two courts in a row think dreamed texts can be burdened by copyrights.
2) That it is the interviewer who holds the copyright, not the interviewee.

The reason given is apparently that the interviewer makes a selection, which to me sounds dangerously close to a database right, which the US (where these cases took place) supposedly does not have.

Earlier questions:

1. Why does a work published after the death of an author receive a copyright? (answer)
2. How can SNTE (the firm that maintains and exploits the Eiffel tower) claim a copyright on the image of the illuminated Eiffel tower when the Paris Hotel in Las Vegas has had a very similar lighted Eiffel tower since two years before?
3. What rights does Microsoft base it’s licenses for protocols on?
(2+3 as yet unanswered)
4. Is it possible to create a public domain image based on copyrighted sources? (as yet unanswered)

Free software has rich deployability

The other day I was installing a server operating system at a small organisation. After waiting till all staffers had gone home so that I could safely take over the network, I sat down to business.

The organisation had limited needs (basically they wanted a file server) and had bought Microsoft Server 2003 on advice of the sysadmin of a subsidiary. While I was waiting, and while screen after screen told me what a fantastic time I was having (I was glad at least somebody thought so), I realized that the great thing about Free Software is not its adaptability, nor its interoperability, nor its robustness, nor even its price, but the fact that I can download it and install it without tons of copyright lawyers breathing down my neck.

You see, the hardest thing by far I encountered during my installfest was the licensing policy of Microsoft. And I am sure Microsoft’s lawyers aren’t even the worst, because at some level the giant from Redmond tries to look out for its customers. But I know the GNU General Public License (GPL, the license behind Free Software). I have released patches under the GPL myself. I know which freedoms it returns to the user, and which it keeps reserved to the author. With that, all my remaining problems are of a technical nature, and these can be overcome by many.

But I am not a copyright lawyer. Microsoft Server 2003 offers you a choice of two or four licenses (it wasn’t really clear, and they took some time explaining that they had actually changed the licenses, which only confused matters), but none of them let you do very much. Or perhaps they do, but that was burried in all the legalese. I don’t think I found out, and I “activated” just the one that seemed the most appropriate.

For an organisation using proprietary software, the first question is not “what will it let me do?”, but rather “when will I be breaking the law?”. And so I find myself often in a position that for a quick fix I will choose Free Software. It’s the less-hassle choice. Once I have worked out what exactly the consequences are of a proprietary license, I may decide to switch. Of course, if the Free Software is good enough, it is probably easier to convince whoever is in charge of software acquisition within the organisation that they should use the Free Software.

So there you have it. To me the great thing about Free Software is that you can deploy it right away. It is about freedom after all.

Responses to E.C. digital libraries consultation

The responses to the European Commission’s consultation on digital libraries (and related subjects such as orphan works) have been posted on its website. Among the respondents are libraries, museums, accessibility groups, publishers, software houses, and private persons such as li’l ole me.

Guaranteed downloading

[cropped screenshot]

Linotype promises to replace any fonts that you bought and may have displaced or damaged. I thought this so remarkable, that I’d blog about. The truly remarkable thing is of course that this sort of service should not be remarkable in the first place, but standard practice.

There are other companies that replace the copyrighted works you license from them, but usually at a cost, and not so prominently through their website.

Some other features of the Linotype website that seems to indicate that the company, unlike so many others, think that they can engage with their customers in a friendly manner, rather than through all-out war: the download of the Font Explorer font manager (their iTunes of fonts) does not require you to register for sixty newsletters, and they link to font tools by third parties, meaning they trust outsiders.

These are little things, but it makes them look trustworthy in return.

Exhibition of legal threats

If you ever wanted to know what legal threats over copyright infringement look like, The Pirate Bay, a Swedish Bittorrent tracker, has built up a nice collection of them and is exhibiting them. (I wrote about the early days of this exhibition before.)

BUMA/Stemra and Royal Dutch Horeca in tiff over “rights-free” music

The Royal Dutch Horeca (Koninklijke Horeca Nederland, abbreviated to KHN; most links in this entry lead to Dutch web pages) has purchased many hours of music for its members; bars, restaurants, et cetera. This is instrumental music intended for background use, muzak. In doing so they landed themselves in hot water with BUMA (often called BUMA/Stemra), an organisation whose sole purpose is to collect levies from people and organisations who play music in public. BUMA believes that although KHN has bought the rights from the rights holders, KHN still owes BUMA money for playing the music. (Which BUMA presumably would then be paying back after subtracting a modest fee for its own services and those of ms. Britney Spears.)

In The Netherlands, copying and publication are two distinct acts recognized by the law that are the sole province of the copyright holder (usually the publisher, sometimes an author or his heirs). However, getting permission from each copyright holder for all of these acts, sometimes thousands a day for a single person or location, can be quite daunting. This is why most countries that subscribe to rigid copyright laws have some system in place where acts of publication or copying can be performed without the copyright holder’s permission, but with payment.

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