“Book” and its Wrappers

Books are sadly limited things once they are wrapped in DRM (see previous). Now even the word book may be limited.

Facebook has filed suit against Teachbook.com, an online community for teachers. The lawsuit accuses Teachbook of “misappropriating the distinctive BOOK portion of Facebook’s trademark.”

I don’t think that’s satire. I think that Jennifer Van Grove wrote it for Mashable with a straight keyboard.

The hounds of “intellectual property” have made enough toothmarks on enough books. Now their foul fangs slaver for the word book itself.

eBooks, Open and Closed

Wizard of EarthseaHere’s a book I bought decades ago, and thousands of miles away from Washington DC. I’ve read it more than once, my mother read it, and I’m currently reading it to my daughter.

If I buy an ebook today, will I be able to read it at a similar remove of time and distance: in 2040 in Sydney, for example? I doubt it. You may have gathered that I an among those who prefer paper books to eBooks. ReadWriteRichard provides 5 reasons to prefer paper, and comments on his post provide more.

This post is about ebooks. So isn’t just a rehash of the advantages of paper. That said, those decades with paper anchor my expectations about books,and those expectations carry over into the upstart format.

Make that upstart ebook formats, since there are many of them. In my previous post on ebooks, I decided that EPUB was the way to go, since almost everyone except Amazon uses it. The trouble is, almost everyone also uses DRM. So EPUB is an open standard that can be, and usually is, wrapped up in DRM, as Gizmodo explained earlier this year.

This means that I can’t buy an book in EPUB format and read it on my hardware or software EPUB reader of choice. Or rather, I can do so only under limited circumstances. For example, I can read a Sony B&N ebook on a Nook, but I can’t read a B&N ebook on a Sony reader. Or, when I Google anything to do with EPUB and DRM, I get a lot of links that seem to lead to instructions for stripping DRM.

This “Tower of eBabel” problem makes me think that my eBook era doesn’t need to start any time soon, unless I suddenly have to go on a long and bookstoreless trip. The prices of the books themselves aren’t particularly attractive, unless you have a free eReader. The selection has some surprising gaps, as well. For example, there seems to be no e-dition of A Wizard of Earthsea.

Microsoft, Music, DRM, etc.

Here’s an interesting juxtaposition of stories from Techmeme. The WSJ story is one of many today about Zune 2.5. The link to WSJ takes you only to a couple of paragraphs and an invitation to subscribe, so you’re probably better off with a link to a real article (e.g., at Engadget).

However, none of the stories about Zune 2.5 I’ve scanned say much about DRM. I believe that the Zuniverse is ridden with the stuff.

That brings us to the second story in the above screenshot. The title is yet another exaggerated rumour of music’s death. But the post itself is an excellent account of what Microsoft will do, on August 31, to people who bought from MSN Music.

On that day, Microsoft will turn off the servers that they maintain for the sole purpose of validating that the songs that people have already “purchased” through MSN Music are still theirs to play. Those people (hereafter “the victims”) will not notice the change right away. The victims will only notice it when they purchase a new computer, or when they upgrade the operating system on their current computer, or when the hard drive in their computer dies and needs to be rebuilt/reinstalled. At that point — transferring the music files they have “purchased” to another drive or a new computer — the Microsoft music player running on the victim’s PC (like iTunes, but all Microsoft-y instead of Apple-y) will make a call to Microsoft’s validation servers to verify that the music files were legitimately purchased. This call will fail, since the servers are not responding, since Microsoft has intentionally turned them off. The Microsoft music player will then conclude, incorrectly but steadfastly, that the music files were downloaded illegally and that the victim is a filthy pirate, and it will refuse to play them.

What can we learn from the juxtaposition of the two Techmeme stories? If we are music buyers, we should avoid DRM like the plague, especially when it comes from Microsoft. If we are writing about Zune, or about pretty much anything to do with digital music, we should tell our readers about the DRM implications.

Or we should at least ask our readers to comment on the DRM implications. So, can someone enlighten us about Zune and DRM?

DRM at the BPL

As reported by Universal Adam, Glyn from across the pond, and from the source itself:

DefectiveByDesign.org will be taking action this Saturday at the Boston Public Library to demand that they remove DRM technology from their collection… gathering outside the entrance at the main branch of the Boston Public Library… from 1pm until 3pm on Saturday, February 9th, 2008.

Yes, that’s tomorrow. I don’t think that I’ll be able to make it in person. So please consider this post my protest against the use of DRM at the BPL: Data Restricted by Microsoft at the Boston Public Library.

DRM at the Home Movies

This year will, I hope, see the death of DRM. For an example of why it deserves to die, let’s go to the (home) movies, and to Seth of the EFF. The central character is Davis Freeberg, but his blog has been so busy it’s been down recently.

The trouble all started when Freeberg bought a new monitor for his Vista computer. When he decided to watch streaming movies from Netflix, Netflix documentation warned him that the recommended means of fixing a problem with DRM-restricted Netflix programming “may remove licenses to other content using Microsoft DRM” — including, in particular, restricted programming he had already purchased through Amazon Unbox…

Freeberg’s conundrum is likely the product of… (mis)features that have been added to Microsoft’s Vista operating system… Unfortunately, these kinds of (mis)features generally (1) don’t stop pirates and (2) result in compatibility headaches for paying customers.

DRM: Another Nail in the Coffin, and EU Regulation

BusinessWeek.com reports that:

In a move that would mark the end of a digital music era, Sony BMG Music Entertainment is finalizing plans to sell songs without the copyright protection software that has long restricted the use of music downloaded from the Internet… Sony BMG would become the last of the top four music labels to drop DRM.

This via Mashable Stan, who hopes that “DRM will soon be a relic, forgotten by everyone except tech blogger-fossils like us.” But we tech bloggers are a lot less fossilized that the European Union, which wants to establish standards for DRM.