Posts tagged ‘copyright’

Arch Linux Handbook for Kindle

I have had a handful of requests that the Arch Linux Handbook be made available for the Kindle platform. It seemed like an odd request, given that the latest version of the Beginners’ Guide is already freely available in electronic format online. However, I had some free time this week and tried the conversion. It wasn’t difficult and I uploaded a version of the Handbook to the Kindle app store. I’ve helped publish other books to Kindle, so I already knew the process.

I received an e-mail from Amazon Customer Service to the following effect:

During a review of your KDP submission(s), we found content that is freely available on the web. You can do an online search for the content inside your book(s) to discover which sites are offering the content for free. Copyright is important to us – we want to make sure that no author or other copyright holder has their work claimed and sold by anyone else.

To confirm you have publishing rights to and control where you distribute the book(s), please provide all of the following information:

1. The URLs for all websites where this content is published
2. An explanation as to why the content is available online

If the books are in the public domain, please confirm this and include the information you used to make this determination. We may request additional information to confirm the public domain status.

Please respond within 5 days to title-submission@amazon.com, and include the title and ID of your books in your reply. Your book has been moved to a blocked status on your bookshelf and will not be available for sale in the Kindle store until we receive the documentation requested.

Sure, no problem. I responded to explain that it was freely redistributable under the Free Documentation License:

This content is indeed freely available on the web at https://wiki.archlinux.org/index.php/Beginners%27_Guide although I have done a certain amount of editing to get it into its current format.

However, this freely available content is published under the GNU Free Documentation License 1.3 or later. (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) which explicitly states:

“The purpose of this License is to make a manual, textbook, or other functional and useful document “free” in the sense of freedom: to assure everyone the effective freedom to copy and redistribute it, with or without modifying it, either commercially or noncommercially. Secondarily, this License preserves for the author and publisher a way to get credit for their work, while not being considered responsible for modifications made by others.”

Their response makes me sound like some kind of criminal:

Hello,

We’ve reviewed the information you provided and have decided to block these books from being sold in the Kindle Store. The books closely match content that is freely available on the web and we are not confident that you hold exclusive publishing rights. This type of content can create a poor customer experience, and is not accepted. As a result, we have blocked the books listed below from being sold in the Kindle Store.

Arch Linux Handbook 3.0 by Phillips, Dusty (EDITOR) (ID: 2884216)

Please be advised that you must hold exclusive publishing rights for books that closely match content that is freely available on the web. If your catalog continues to contain books that fail to comply with these conditions or do not meet our Content Guidelines, your account may be terminated.

The content guidelines applicable to all Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) publishers can be found here: https://kdp.amazon.com/self-publishing/help?topicId=A2TOZW0SV7IR1U

Best regards,

Megan B.
Amazon.com
Your feedback is helping us build Earth’s Most Customer-Centric Company.

I was insulted and hurt by this message. It’s arrogant and it is confrontational. It makes no effort to address the specifics of the e-mail. But I cheered up at the end, or at least I laughed, “Customer-Centric Company”? Don’t advertise what you aren’t.

The original message made no mention of the fact that I should have “exclusive” publishing rights. It even said public domain work was acceptable. I have published Creative Commons books that are freely available online on the Kindle before (although they are a non-commercial creative commons license, so we still have “exclusive” rights to publish on Kindle).

In other news, the Arch Linux Handbook can be downloaded in .mobi format, free of charge, from http://archlinux.ca/arch_linux_handbook_3.mobi.

UPDATE:

After this article unexpectedly hit Reddit and Hacker News (my target audience was the Arch Linux Community), Amazon let the title go through and it is now available from http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0098R71V2. They have been in contact with me but have not been able to explain why the book has been allowed to be published! The best explanation I got was:

We’ve re-reviewed your content and have determined it may be published to the Kindle Store. We generally can’t accept content that closely matches content that is freely available on the web, for which you do not hold the sole publishing rights, or that which is not in the public domain. For example, content from Wikipedia and content with private label rights are not allowed since it disappoints our customers to pay for content that is freely available on the web.

Since the Arch Linux Beginners’ Guide is a wiki-developed article no different from Wikipedia, I’m not certain why the Handbook is now allowed.

I originally posted this article to explain why the handbook is not available in the Kindle store. My intent was not to complain about Amazon’s policies (although I was not happy with the suggestion that I am prone to criminal activity). The new purpose is to mention it’s availability through the store, although you can still download my quick one-off conversion if it suits you as well. In all honesty, I can’t imagine why anyone would want to purchase something that is already freely available in electronic format, but at least now that choice is open.

Copyresponsibility

There has been a great deal of discussion about copyrights in the new world, where the ability to copy or distribute any piece of information without destroying the original is virtually infinite.

Much effort has been put into preserving the “old model”, where the right to copy is restricted based on the author (or more often, the publisher/distributor), in the form of DRM, civil lawsuits, new laws, and intellectual property. Overall, this effort has failed, and continues to fail. The laws are becoming more complex, but enforcement is still impossible.

We live in an exciting time. Society has not yet decided whether copying information is moral or not. We already know what a world in which copying data is immoral is like — the “old model”. But what would happen if a world where it was both accepted and expected that anyone who has access to a piece of information has the legal and moral right to redistribute it?

Personally, I think we must plan for such a world, because it seems inevitable. Perhaps the various organizations attempting to hold onto the old model will succeed, but not forever. I think coming generations will demand the right to access and distribute information as they see fit.

Ultimately, this would mean that anyone who has access to (“read”) a piece of information has an equal right to share that information as the author. We already see models where this is the case; very few people know or care who the authors of Wikipedia articles are, for example. When a YouTube video goes viral, you rarely look to see who uploaded it. Even if you do, you don’t know if they actually created the original.

I think this will place a great deal of responsibility on people who have privileged knowledge. The author of a document has exclusive right to its content until she shares it with another person. At that point, those two people would have an equal share in the right to the content. This is implicit and obvious, but something that has not been discussed much to date is that they also have an equal share in the responsibility of deciding who else may view that document.

If every single person who has access to the information agrees that no-one else should see it, then the information is private to that group. However, if the weakest link chooses to share it with outsiders, nobody else in the group would have the right to stop them.

Thus, in the copy-responsibility world, a huge amount of trust is required before sharing information that you consider sensitive. I know people who claim, “if it’s on the Internet then it’s public”, even if it’s inside a private Facebook group or Google Plus circle. This claim simply acknowledges that every member of that circle has an equal right to share that data, or equal responsibility to keep it within the cartel. (They are overlooking the fact that employees at Facebook and Google are also implicit members of that circle that may not be so reliable.)

In summary, I think it’s fair to say we live in (or will soon live in) a world where we no longer have a right to privacy. Instead, we will have a responsibility to privacy. We are responsible for our own “secrets” as well as the secrets of anyone who has shared their secrets with us.

Copyright Dichotomy

In the so-called “copyright wars,” we see a spectrum having the MPAA, RIAA, Jack Valenti, and “all rights reserved” on one side, with the Pirate Parties, Pirate Bay, Rick Falkvinge, and “no rights reserved” on the other side. In the middle, we have Creative Commons, Lawrence Lessig, and “some rights reserved”.

I’d like to momentarily expand this line to one that places “no rights reserved” in the middle, in a way that shifts Lessig closer to Valenti, and opens up a whole new area of creative exploration beyond the pirates, who are no longer extremists.

First, a disclaimer: I don’t claim to have any answers. I don’t even believe what I’m suggesting is the right path. I am simply suggesting an idea that frames a long-standing and long-term discussion in a different light.

The spectrum above defines the opposite of a right as “the absense of a right.” This only goes halfway. The opposite of a right is a responsibility.

Image, for a moment, a society where there is no such thing as, “the right to my creation,” but there is a massive, “responsibility to create.” In this society, people would have free access to all the materials of the world, all the patents, blueprints, and software, all the films, songs, and books, all the photos, paintings, and sketches the world has ever seen. In exchange for this free access, individuals would be required (responsible) to create a certain amount of new material every year. Some of this material would be innovative and fresh, some would be a new presentation of old stories and ideas, some of it would be interpretations of those old stories in new media. We’d see new designs for existing products, we’d see new products that merge old technologies. We’d see Android phones with iphone gestures, and we’d see Mickey Mouse saving Princess Peach from the evil Bowser the Hedgehog.

Such a world may excite some, bore others, and scare many. Would these same people be less excited, bored, or scared by the Pirate Party? by Creative Commons? Maybe those deals aren’t so bad after all (to those demanding rights)… or maybe they aren’t so good (to the promoters of creativity).

This responsibility to create idea seems radical in the context of entertainment media, but it is not new. It’s a long-standing scientific tradition, best encompassed by Newton’s overused quote about giants. Academics have “free” access to the entire compendium of academic knowledge; in exchange for this access, they are expected (responsible) to generate new ideas and innovations. Some are good and some are bad, but if a scientist neglects to publish a few new papers a year, they fade from the academic community.

This idea is also an unofficial motivator in open source communities. Within the Arch Linux community, my home, I’ve made some effort recently to verbalize this norm. The story goes thus: Arch Linux has had contributions from many thousands of users. Each of us that uses the distribution is somehow indebted to all those other users. Further, we can never, as individuals, pay off the debt in its entirety. Even the well-known user with 8000 posts on the forum, thousands of package updates to his name, and dozens of Arch Linux tools under his belt has contributed but a drop in the bucket compared to the efforts of the entire community. And Aaron is aware of this debt. So should we all be.

Yes, in the academic and open source world, the implied responsibility to create is known to work. Creativity in both worlds spreads more quickly than anywhere else. Compare to the communities creating ideas whose soul purpose is entertainment. Even the liberated Jamendo is mired way over in the (Some) Rights Reserved end of the scale.

Intellectually Dispossessed

Ursula K. Le Guin is, or had been, one of my favourite authors. In 1974, she published an excellent thought experiment, set in a science fiction setting, titled, “The Dispossessed.” The book discusses a group of people who built a culture and society around the idea of non-possession; nothing belonged to anyone. People lived in whichever house was vacant, people worked together to feed and shelter themselves. Their language did not include concepts of “my” or “mine,” and their children were raised by the community at large.

In some ways, “The Dispossessed” picks up where Richard Stallman’s Short Story, The Right To Read, published 23 years later, left off. The similarity is striking, yet the current stance of the two authors is startlingly different.

“The Dispossessed,” was a masterpiece, yet it is only one of several books Le Guin has written that seem to support cultures of freedom and creativity. I always believed this author was one who supported freedom and creativity.

Apparently, her works are fiction after all.

In December, 2009 Ursula K. Le Guin resigned from the Author’s Guild due to their settlement with Google on their book scanning policies.

I question how a woman who so clearly understood and documented the benefits of “dispossession” could now be in favour of intellectual property and copyrights. How could she write such an innovative novel, one that she apparently believed in, and yet, now that the world she describes is within reach, she fights it?

Yes, the culture described in Le Guin’s 1970s-era book is similar to a culture the open source and creative commons movements are now so effectively living. Her dream, nearly forty years later, is now becoming a reality.

I’m not sure what has changed in the decades since The Dispossessed was originally written and published, but I would like Ms. Le Guin to reconsider her stance, to study these new movements. Please, ask Lawrence Lessig to explain his views. Most importantly, I sincerely encourage her to publish her next work under a creative commons license. I think she’ll find that she will profit, rather than lose, from such a venture.

Distributors Don't Die

Abstract

The Internet makes it easy for artist and audience to connect directly, but it does not eliminate a market for distribution companies, as distribution costs are nonzero. However, these costs do not justify a royalty from every sale.

I have implied, or even explied* that distributors (record labels, publishers, movie producers) are not necessary in the Internet era because artists have direct and immediate access to consumers. We don’t need the middle man, and should not be creating laws to protect their business model when said model has no benefit to society.

In the past few months, I have been acting as a distributor. The author is my father, and the consumers are anyone interested in reading his writing. I’ve published two of his books online in html and epub formats and intend to add more works and formats in the future. I encourage anyone reading this to check out this new author, because as his publisher, one of my duties is marketing.

As a distributor for this author, I have spent many many hours proofreading and editing his work. I have spent many more hours designing his site and will be spending several weeks getting the books laid out for hard-cover and paper-back binding.

I am doing this for free as a personal favour to the author and because I believe in him and his work. In a normal business transaction, this is a service that somebody somewhere must pay for. Thus, there is still a market for distribution companies. There are two ways that they can expect remuneration.

1) The artist sells their work to the distributor and the distributor gambles that the work will sell. The publisher covers the cost of distribution and receives a royalty on each sale of the work. The royalty is very high to cover substantial losses should the gamble fail.

2) The artist pays an up-front one-time payment to the distributor for their services. An analogy is hiring a plumber to do the pipe-fitting for a public toilet. He doesn’t get paid for every flush.

Current recording, publishing, and movie networks use the former model. This model is failing. Next-generation artists are realizing that the second option means much greater income per sale. A surge of independent editing, remastering, printing, and marketing businesses will start to eat a larger and larger share of the distribution market as artists realize the greater return on investment. More competition means lower costs for artists seeking an audience, which in turn implies lower ultimate costs for audiences purchasing a work.

I offer independent book-publishing services including editing, proofreading, printing and online distribution. I’m learning as I go, so my fees are low. If you want to gamble that I can learn faster and cheaper than you can get a large publishing house to accept your work, get in touch.

The current record labels, movie producers, and book publishers are losing the oligarchical control they are used to. They don’t like this. They want to invent artificial laws that make it harder for artists to be published without their blessing. Please support your local Pirate Party.


*Explied is not a word, but if it was a word it would mean “explicitly stated”. I think it should be a word, therefore I encourage you to use it at your earliest opportunity. I made up this word, but google insists that I was not the first to invent it.

Canadian Copyright Consultation

The Canadian government is either making an effort or making a show of making an effort to consult with the public and other stakeholders on the issue of digital rights and copyright. I encourage all Canadians to post a response to them at this site: http://copyright.econsultation.ca/

Here is my response. The ideas and opinions expressed here are largely based on discussions we’ve had at the Pirate Party of Canada discussion forum. My opinions do not, however, necessarily reflect the opinion of the Pirate Party of Canada.

Feel free to plagiarize any parts of the following letter in your own letters to the Copyright Consultation.

—-
Dear Copyright Consultation Members,

My background: I am a freelance software developer holding a Master’s
degree in Computer Science from York University. I am an advocate of
open source software and member of the fledgling Pirate Party of
Canada. I understand the fundamental shift that Internet technology
has made on society, and am here to explain this understanding to the
lawmakers.

1. How do Canada’s copyright laws affect you?

Our copyright laws take all power away from both artists and consumers
and place that power in the hands of wealthy distribution channels
such as book publishers, record labels, and movie studios. As an
aspiring author, I cannot get my book published because the publishing
industry does not like my style. As a consumer, I cannot access music
at reasonable prices because the recording industry wants a huge cut.
I may not mind paying $20 for a CD, but knowing that the original
artist gets a small fraction of that is upsetting. I’d rather send the
entire $20 directly to the artist and download their music from
so-called “pirate” services.

The Internet is making these distribution channels unnecessary.
Authors can post books online and self-publish using online services
such as lulu or createspace. Musicians can post their music online
using Jamendo or Bittorrent. Independent movie producers can post
their movies online using hulu, youtube, or similar services. This
shift allows artists direct access to the consumers and vice versa.

The distribution channels are irrelevant; they know this and are
lobbying for laws to make it harder and/or illegal to access content
without paying them. This is like trying to pass laws that we all use
typewriters instead of e-mail because typewriters and the postal
system are no longer relevant. It serves a set of industries already
well-known for misusing artists and consumers alike.

How should existing laws be modernized?

The number one change is to reduce copyright term. Drastically.

A book published today will not be available to the public in my life
time. How is the original author compensated after his or her death?
Sony is making an obscene fortune off of Michael Jackson’s death, a
small fraction of that will go to his family. Why?

In addition, technology is now advancing at an incredible rate. a
century ago when our current copyright laws were introduced, things
moved in decades. Now they move in seconds. It could take years for a
book or recording to circulate and be heard by everyone in the
country. Now the entire world can read it in a week, and next week its
old news.

Copyright term should be shortened to 10 years for books, 5 years for
music and movies, 2 years for software, and 1 year or less for
medicinal knowledge. This would give artists and distribution channels
some compensation, but would increase the rate of knowledge growth by
at least one human generation.

Second, non-commercial sharing of data must not be illegal. It should
not be illegal for me to loan a book to a friend. It should not be
illegal for me to read a book to my friend over the phone. By
extension, I should be able to share it with them across any media or
time-frame.

2. Based on Canadian values and interests, how should copyright
changes be made in order to withstand the test of time?

The primary Canadian value at risk and often forgotten in these
discussions is privacy. We are a very private people compared to say,
the USA, although probably less private than most of Europe. Many
corporate lobiests suggest that people not be allowed to share data
they have paid for or use it in whatever way they see fit. The obvious
example is filesharing, but the logical extensions could lead to
charging to read a book every time you open it, or forbidding a person
from watching a movie at a friend’s house if they haven’t paid to view
it.

The privacy problem is that policing such laws would require knowing
every movie I watch, every book I read, and every packet I transfer
across the Internet. The authorities would have to read every e-mail
to ensure I haven’t attached an “illegal” file to it. This is clearly
a drastic invasion of privacy.

Another core Canadian value is the desire to create. Our country has a
very unique heritage with many unique works of art not created
anywhere else. If the large media outlets get their way, they will
have complete control over all creative works. They will get to pick
and choose which artists get shown to the public and which ones get
placed in the equivalent of a creative prison with no access to
potential readers, viewers, or listeners. We will be steered by US
corporate interests and our cultural works will be marginalized and
ultimately, lost.

3. What sorts of copyright changes do you believe would best foster
innovation and creativity in Canada?

As mentioned, shorter copyright term. That will:
a) force capable artists and inventors to come up with new ideas
instead of living off the fruits of a single idea for their entire
lives
b) allow capable artists and authors to ‘stand on the shoulders of
giants’ and reuse existing works in their own works and inventions.
They can constructively spend time improving existing works instead of
trying to circumvent other good ideas that they do not have access to.

4. What sorts of copyright changes do you believe would best foster
competition and investment in Canada?

Competition would definitely be served by shorter copyright term.
Companies and artists would need to continue creating, and would have
to sell their works with quality service and pricing.

Investment is a really tricky issue because it depends what other
countries are doing. I believe that if Canada had sane copyright laws,
there would be a “new-style” publishing industry cropping up here, and
artists may move to our nation to take advantage of direct access to
an audience. On the other hand, currently powerful companies would
shun investment in the new model. I believe such companies will become
irrelevant.

5. What kinds of changes would best position Canada as a leader in
the global, digital economy?

Such a question depends on what the rest of the world is doing. Canada
needs to look to Europe for inspiration as the USA has the most
powerful corporate anti-consumer backing. Europe has already elected
Pirate Party members focused on copyright reform similar to what I
have described. It is inevitable that massive reform, even revolutions
in copyright law will occur at some point; it is possible that wars
will be fought over it. Canada can be at the front of this movement by
changing our laws first, and by doing it the way we always do:
peacefully.

Dusty Phillips
—-

Pirate Party of Canada

I have never considered myself a political activist. I rarely vote, believing that “low voter turnout” is a more telling statistic than “voted for one of several fools at random”.

I’ve always been unimpressed by the Canadian democratic process. There seemed no alternative to leaving the handling of our nation in the hands of whichever babbling, bumbling bozos happen to get elected. None of them ever really did anything to directly benefit me, but they never seemed to cause much harm either.

I also never tell people who to vote for. We all have different views and needs and you have both a right to and reason for completely different opinions.

But I can advertise! If you haven’t heard about the Pirate Party and its recent success in the European Union, you may want to read up on it. Its goals are to reform copyright laws such that authors and consumers are treated fairly and distributors no longer wield the increasingly evil and technologically obsolete powers they are lobbying to protect.

If you’re Canadian, I encourage you to read about Bill C-61 and consider the implications it will have on our country’s future. Its goals are to reform copyright laws such that authors and consumers are criminals and distributors have a complete monopoly on the increasingly evil and technologically obsolete powers they currently hold.

Read up on these topics and form your own opinions. Then, if you feel angry or threatened, I suggest heading over to http://piratepartyofcanada.com and lend whatever skills you have to this nascent Canadian political party.