Michael P. Soulier
But I Digress
So, as previously mentioned, I own a Kobo and I’ve been using it for a while now, entering the world of ebooks. It’s kind of an experiment really, as I like dead trees just fine, but I also like the idea of ebooks.
Dead trees do what they’re told. You turn the page, and it turns, unlike say, DVDs which tell you that you can’t skip something that the content producer deemed important, like a useless ad, a company logo or the FBI warning…in Canada.
But, books take up a lot of space, and take resources to produce. I love them, but there are definitely cons to all of the pros of dead trees. I have over 100 books on my Kobo right now, so if I go on vacation and finish my current book, I have plenty more. Many of them are copyright-expired free books, and one is from the library, as they’re trying to stay current in this revolution. Good for them. The world of ebooks is motivating me to read more than I usually would, and catch up on the classics that I’ve been meaning to read. As my eyes get weaker I can even increase the font size. Nice.
But, I recently bought a couple of books from the Kobo website, and this turned my attention to the topic of ownership. In buying the book, the books synced via the Kobo software are in “kepub” format, a Kobo extension to Adobe’s DRM Epub format. So they’re not only DRM-protected, but they’re non-standard. It’s like buying a book, but having it wrapped up a lock that needs a key that I don’t own, but can only borrow. And I’m paying money for this? Shouldn’t I be able to do whatever I damn-well please with my own property? A quaint idea in this digital age perhaps, but I think so.
Not to mention the fact that Maria and I normally donate our read books to the library when we’re done with them and sure that we’re not going to read them again, and we loan books to friends too. Thanks to DRM, our friends and the library lose out.
So, what’s an open-source hacker to do in a world of digital books and DRM? I could abstain, of course. Stick with dead trees, and stick my head in the sand and pretend that ebooks are going to go away, while shouting, “la la la” whenever someone mentions them. I’d rather explore the technology though, and understand the problem, before pretending to have a solution.
The Kobo website permits a download of Adobe DRM Epub books for anything that you’ve bought, so you can import them into Adobe Digital Editions. As it turns out, there are tools to remove the DRM from those files. As I’ve paid for the books, should I not be allowed to make legal copies for my own use? Like copying the book onto my phone in case I want to read it there? Or onto my Linux desktop? I think so. I suspect there are many who don’t agree with me though, because they want to charge me for a copy of the book on every platform that I want to read it on. Not to mention that they’re not willing to give me the benefit of the doubt, and they assume that if I can copy the book then I will copy it illegally and put it up on the piratebay or something similar.
Alternatively, if I buy a physical copy of a book, what if I don’t read it, and instead scan it into digital form so that I can read it on my Kobo? IANAL, but I think that would be a legal copy for my own purposes under Canadian copyright law, and when I’m done I can still loan that book to a friend and donate it to the library. Once donated I would even delete my digital copy, but of course no content producer would trust me to do that. I’m guilty until proven innocent.
Perhaps all print books should include the ability to download an epub version, for this very reason, or all epub versions should allow you to print off a copy for donation reasons.
The world of ebooks is far from perfect. Publishers want to impose old, obsolete ideas from the print world onto the digital world, like limiting numbers of copies, and limited loan times for libraries, when these limitations don’t actually exist in the digital world unless you create them artificially. I am positive that this world will evolve over time. I just hope it evolves into something fair for consumers.