As a supporter of Project Gutenberg‘s eBook philosophy, I refuse to purchase a device that operates solely in proprietary file format and has hinky public domain vs. copyright and ownership issues associated with it. Lately, the PG-forum arguments for and against the Kindle have turned into ones of readability; subjective terms such as “comfortable” and “readable” are thrown about in place of that device’s accessibility and obsolescence. Personally, I have no problems reading the entire fraking Odyssey on my iPhone’s Stanza app after having downloaded it directly from Project Gutenberg. First of all, minimum eyestrain given that I practically live on my iPhone. And other phones exist that offer comfort and reader resolution for long periods of time. More importantly, it’s a special-super-secret-format-free, public-domain eBook which I can download again onto another phone once the iPhone is put out to pasture. Ostensible readability is a sad metric with which to hold the Kindle up as the standard for eBook readers to come.
Back to the shady book ownership issues associated with the Kindle. Do you know what I like about books more than readability? The fact that they’re mine. Once I purchase a book, I can do whatever I want with it: read it silently, read it out loud to myself or someone else, store it on my shelf for years, loan it to a friend, sell it or give it away to a library or school. The same versatility applies to plain vanilla ASCII e-texts on computers and cellphones. Can you do that with a Kindle eBook? The answers range from definitely not to we don’t know, and this is why we cannot let Amazon’s Kindle or any other proprietary book reader establish the technological and legal standards for such devices. Cory Doctorow writes in today’s BoingBoing (emphases mine):
Back in February, the Authors Guild, a lobby group representing less than 10,000 writers, argued that the Kindle’s ability to read text aloud infringed on copyright (it doesn’t — and even if it does, the infringement lies not in including the feature, but rather in using it; this is the same principle that makes the VCR legal). Amazon folded and agreed to revoke the feature.
Now comes some news about how they’re doing this, from the Knowledge Ecology International site:
“Beginning yesterday, Random House Publishers began to disable text-to-speech remotely. The TTS function has apparently been remotely disabled in over 40 works so far. Affected titles include works by Toni Morrison, Stephen King, and others. Other notable titles include Andrew Meachem’s American Lion, and five of the top ten Random House best-sellers in the Kindle store.” I’ve been trying to get a statement from Amazon about this since February: how does disabling text-to-speech work? It appears that there’s a text-to-speech “flag” in the Kindle file-format that the Kindle looks for and responds to, disabling the feature if it’s set to 0 (a perl script called mobi2mobi can reset the bit to 1). But what no one at Amazon will tell me is what other flags are lurking in the Kindle format: is there a “real only once” flag? A “no turning the pages backwards” flag?
This makes me a lot less inclined to purchase a Kindle than arguments about reader vs. phone readability and other straw-boogey-men raised by a few authors, their publishing houses and Amazon. Think before you buy. Your purchase has far-reaching media access and ownership implications.