The Danger of Ebooks
In an age where business dominates our governments and writes our laws, every technological
advance offers business an opportunity to impose new restrictions on the public. Technologies
that could have empowered us are used to chain us instead.
With printed books,
• You can buy one with cash, anonymously.
• Then you own it.
• You are not required to sign a license that restricts your use of it.
• The format is known, and no proprietary technology is needed to read the book.
• You have the right to give, lend or sell the book to another.
• You can, physically, copy the book, and it's sometimes lawful under copyright.
• Nobody has the power to remotely destroy your book.
Contrast that with Amazon ebooks (fairly typical):
• Amazon requires users to identify themselves to get an ebook.
• In some countries, including the US, Amazon says the user cannot own the ebook.
• Amazon requires the user to accept a restrictive license on use of the ebook.
• The format is secret and only proprietary user-restricting software lawfully supports it.
• The Kindle tells Amazon what page the user is reading, plus any notes the user enters.
• An ersatz “lending” is allowed for some books, for a limited time, but only by
specifying by name another user of the same system. No giving or selling.
• Copying the ebook is blocked by Digital Restrictions Management .
• Amazon can remotely delete the ebook using a back door.
In 2009, Amazon deleted thousands of copies of George Orwell's 1984. this way.
• Amazon can do anything to a Kindle user through a universal back door.
Each one of these infringements makes these ebooks ethically inferior to printed books. We must
demand that ebooks respect the whole of readers' traditional freedom – not one jot less.
The ebook companies say these restrictions and assaults are necessary to pay authors. The current
copyright system supports those companies handsomely, and most authors badly. We can support
authors better in other ways that don't entail curtailing our freedom, and even legalize sharing.
Two methods I've suggested are:
• To distribute tax funds to authors based on the cube root of each author's popularity.
• To design players so users can easily send authors anonymous voluntary payments.
Ebooks don't have to attack our freedom (Project Gutenberg's ebooks don't), but they will if
companies get to decide. It's up to us to stop them.
Join our cause: sign up at http://DefectiveByDesign.org/ebooks.html
URL of this handout: http://stallman.org/articles/ebooks.pdf
Copyright 2011, 12, 14, 15 Richard Stallman Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license
Richard M. Stallman