Amazon and the Kindle 2

Oh, Amazon. Every now and then you do things that make it difficult for me to be a fan (and customer) no matter how much I like your stuff. (This is a characteristic you share with Blizzard, so you’re at least in interesting company.)

First, the Kindle 2.

My house is filled with bookshelves and books, perhaps unsurprisingly. Holly has been very interested in the potential for electronic books to serve as a replacement for physical books in certain circumstances- for example, for travel, ease of storage, and the possible replacement of some of MY books. 😛 We bought the Sony Librie from Japan some years back and have had a mixed experience with it. For her birthday we bought a Kindle 2. That one didn’t work out so well, so Amazon sent a replacement, which is what I’m basing “the good” below on.

The Good:

-Readability. It’s a good device for reading standard text- without killing your eyes.
-WHISPERNET. Free access to the Internet, just about everywhere, without a monthly charge. This isn’t all good (elaborated below), but it’s been useful for using sites like Wikipedia.
-Text to Speech. The “experimental” text to speech feature is surprisingly decent. It’s not as good as a regular audio book, naturally, but it’s certainly been usable when set with the male voice at the fastest speed. H has been using it regularly, and it is by far her favorite feature.
-Images look surprisingly good. One of the things we’ve been very interested in is the use of the Kindle 2 as a manga reader, and it does that job adequately (with a couple of caveats I’ll address below).
-Free books. There are several free public domain books available from the Kindle store, as well as some newer free books (usually the first in a series). For example, the first book in the Temeraire series, His Majesty’s Dragon, is free.
-It’s easy to buy things. This can be dangerous (see “the ugly” below).

The Bad:

-The manga selection sucks. There’s about one.
-The overall selection could be better.
-Book organization could be better. It would be nice to have folders or better ways to view your books instead of a big list that you can only organize in a limited number of ways.
-The browser. The Kindle is in black and white, and not all sites render well- not even sites that are mostly text.
-I wish they’d kept the ability to use memory cards with the Kindle.
-I keep on comparing it to my iPhone and trying to zoom in and out to no avail. ^_^;

The Ugly:

-DRM. I disagree with the idea of tying a specific copy to a specific device. This alone almost caused me not purchase the Kindle 2. That’s the basic reason for my dislike of DRM, which goes beyond that- my experiences with DRM with games, music, and the work of libraries and archives have made me very distrustful of its use.

-Having to zoom in each manga page to get the best image possible. Really, they should just allow you to keep it zoomed in at all times. (Zooming basically takes away the top and bottom information bars.)

-It’s easy to buy things. Possibly too easy. We returned the first Kindle 2 we received because it would freeze when we did certain things (such as, oh, hitting the “back” button on the first page of any chapter). When this first occurred, we pressed various buttons to try to get it to unfreeze, and nothing worked- not even a hard shut down. After about 10 minutes or so, the screen started responding again- and somehow, during this time of non-response, we purchased the then best-seller 3 times. Oops. Amazon promptly refunded the purchases, and after a week or so and a number of phone calls I convinced them to send us a replacement, which has worked much better.

-Amazon’s capitulation on the text to speech issue. I submitted feedback and received their standard reply, part of which is excerpted below.

We’ve looked carefully at the legality of Kindle 2’s Text-to-Speech software, and it is clearly legal.

Nevertheless, we believe many rights holders will be more comfortable with the text-to-speech feature if they are in the driver’s seat. With text-to-speech, Kindle can still read every newspaper, magazine, blog and book out loud to you, except if the book is disabled by the rights holder. We believe most rights holders, usually the publisher or author, will decide to keep text-to-speech enabled.

Here’s the thing: if it’s clearly legal, then rights holders don’t deserve to be in the driver’s seat. In this case, users do. You’re not doing us any favors; quite the contrary, your stance can hurt lawful use in the long run. I realize that you’re probably doing this in order to convince publishers to put their books on Kindle in the first place (not to mention possible contract disputes), but I’m pretty unhappy with the decision.

Also, Neil Gaiman’s take on the subject seems eminently sensible.

-Amazon’s attack on the ability to place other legally purchased books on the Kindle. If Amazon wants electronic books to succeed, I think they’re doing it wrong.

All in all, despite the problems we’ve had, we both agree that we like the Kindle. We truly hope that Amazon changes its practices, and we hope that the Kindle continues to improve.

Cross posted at the Copyright Advisory Network.

Quick updates: Useful links for Google Books and the OCLC Policy Change

Many things have happened in the copyright/libraries and games/libraries world since my last post, and I’m not going to comment on them too much just yet. I did want to mention some resources I’ve found very useful when tracking some of the larger controversies.

-Walt Crawford’s March 2009 Cites & Insights has a wonderful summary of various perspectives on the Google Books settlement.  I’d add Scrivener’s Error for an additional useful perspective from an author’s attorney. ALA’s Office for Information Technology Policy also has a Google Book Settlement blog.
-The Code4Lib Wiki’s OCLC Policy Change article  has been very valuable when trying to keep up with that controversy.

I’ve been hired by ALA to write articles related to copyright for their Web site, so I’ll be working on that for a bit.  The articles will be available under a Creative Commons license, and I’ll probably make them available here as well. The Copyright Advisory Network group got together in DC this past December, and we’ve been working on developing resources on the revamped librarycopyright.net site since then (and we will continue to do so). In the near future I’m going to address a few issues related to some problems institutions have come across in their digitization projects and also when not to use a Creative Commons license (hint: when you don’t own the copyright in the material). Before that, though, expect a post on the Amazon controversy from the perspective of a Kindle 2 owner (as well as one who’s a bit frustrated with the Kindle 2 experience right now…)

Today’s slightly-off-my-normal-track link was to the Mont Blanc trademark infringement lawsuit against a person who was selling altered pens. Alas, the legal  documents have been removed from the places they were publicly available and are only accessible through Pacer at the moment. I’m not a fountain pen user- as a lefty with poor hand writing in general, my penmenship with a fountain pen is a pretty scary thing- but Holly is a dedicated collector, and I’ve been following this situation with some interest.

Fair Use in Scholarship

I’ve been involved in a few disturbing conversations the last couple of days.

Fair Use has a vital role in copyright law- it allows the use of copyrighted material without permission for what are essentially societal benefits. Criticism, scholarship, teaching and research are specifically mentioned in the text of the law as examples of the kinds of work that should be fair. Fair use is necessary for scholars.

I’m interested in a wide variety of subjects that don’t directly involve copyright- much like the field if Information, looking at copyright often involves looking at the areas that copyright touches, and much like the field of Information, those areas can be just about anything. So, for example, I look at how copyright affects the practices of libraries and archives, or K-12 education, or other subjects.

One of the things that got me interested in copyright in the first place were the practices of fans, because I am a fan and copyright seemed to bring up interesting and problematic questions for fan activities. In the anime fan world, for example, the practice of fansubbing- that is, groups of fan subtitling and distributing anime that hasn’t been released in the U.S.- used to be, and still is, relatively common. Anime club showings, where people get together and show anime, are also common. I have doubts that the anime industry would exist if these practices hadn’t occurred, but they certainly bring up copyright challenges. Anime itself has become a serious subject of study, and I’m on a few related mailing lists.

I recently gave a presentation about copyright to a group of archivists and educators from different universities in the U.S. One of the topics that came up was working with attorneys. At UT, we’re very fortunate to have strong copyright scholarship advocates like Georgia Harper. I know some other universities also have advocates in that area- Kevin Smith at Duke, for example. But one thing that really struck me from that meeting was that not all groups in other universities have that kind of support. A couple of people described how risk-averse their counsel is when it comes to copyright issues. That’s a problem. There’s too much going on in the world for fear to win those copyright arguments in education.

A related discussion popped up on one of the scholarly anime mailing lists I mentioned. One student working on a dissertation was told that he was required to get permission for every thumbnail or image he had intended to include in his work- well more than a hundred. A few people chimed in about how such a requirement seemed excessive, but many who contributed to that conversation said they had to work under that same restriction: “No permission, no dissertation, no graduation.” Some flat out said that they were told to just avoid such use altogether- don’t even plan on using images at all. If you had planned to, change your plans. Write about something else.

That’s terrible. Even when the law is likely on your side, your institutional situation can put you in a position where you’re not allowed to assert your rights and do the type of research that could contribute certain types of understanding. And when universities take this type of attitude and base their practice on this attitude, it affects the rights of scholars everywhere. Looking at actual practice is part of evaluating fair use. Making your practices so very restrictive is not only detrimental to your researchers, but to everyone doing research.

We, the scholarly community, need to be fair use advocates. We can’t let fear rule our decisions.

Another RIAA Copyright Horror Story

I was approached by an undergraduate student last week. She had recently received a letter from the RIAA demanding that she pay them a settlement for infringement. They had the names of seven songs, the times when the songs were shared and an IP address associated with the sharing. The organization had apparently issued a subpoena to the University of Texas, as the settlement letter was able to specifically name her with information provided from the University that showed the IP address associated with her EID (UT’s electronic identification) at those times. Here’s the problem.

She didn’t share those files.

You see, she was never able to quite figure out how to connect her laptop- her only computer- to UT’s new restricted secure 802.1x wireless network while on campus. That is not unusual- I’ve provided tech support to several people about that very issue since the implementation of the network.

So, while on campus, she used other people’s laptops to log onto the wireless network. And she frequently left the computer while still being logged in to the network. It’s not difficult to forget to log out- you often have to actively clear the credentials from the computer, and the early automated installers that set up the network didn’t provide an easy way to do so.

If anything, she’s guilty of not following UT’s Acceptable Use Policy. Technically, other people were using her EID. The consequences for that, however, should be far different from the consequences for infringement.

She called the RIAA, and they weren’t interested in her story or any proof she might be able to provide. They told her to settle. She’s contacted UT’s Legal Services, but as the person who might have actually done the sharing is probably also their client, so they have a conflict of interest and couldn’t represent her. She’s contacted other attorneys and all the people that she could think of, but all the while the clock is ticking. She has 10 days. After that, the RIAA takes further action, and the costs go up.

At this point in time it looks like she might have to settle and pay thousands of dollars for infringement that she didn’t commit.

“I think filters are there mostly for teachers.”

On the one hand, I think it’s quite disturbing that children have to really learn about copyright now while they’re children- so much for unfettered creativity. On the other hand, I had the opportunity to talk to several middle schoolers participating in a community-sponsored film workshop series, and they seriously give me hope for the future. They asked great questions – “What about AMVs [Anime Music Videos]? In Japan, they have fan comics and people are okay with that, why can’t we do that here? What about fan fiction? What if you mix up songs? What about posting clips on YouTube? What about game reviews? Does giving credit matter?” ALL of them had read fan fiction. ALL of them were familiar with P2P technology. ALL of them decided to share their films with a Creative Commons attribution-non commercial license. ALL of them wanted to allow people to create derivative works- even if there was the risk they wouldn’t like what people did with it.

There was even one student following the Harry Potter Lexicon case.

The other funny thing happened as we were going to find a computer with Internet access. One of the younger boys described in passing how he used a proxy server to bypass school filters in order to get to MySpace at school. Most of the students seemed to know of a few ways to get to the sites that they wanted to visit. Referring to the filters, one of the girls confided,
“I think they’re there mostly for the teachers.”

Library Game Nights & Copyright

GamePolitics is asking whether game nights at churches and libraries violate copyright:
http://www.gamepolitics.com/2008/06/02/do-library-amp-church-game-nights-violate-eula

Interesting discussion. Should there be licensing for that type of activity? I don’t know- I’d worry that game publishers would try to treat it as a revenue stream in such a manner unavailable to other types of media. But those EULAs… If there was simple, easy to get, and inexpensive manner to go about getting those types of permission (and I’m talking on a library budget, here)…
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Censorship of Media; Copyright and Video Games

I came across two articles today that aren’t explicitly connected to one another, but are certainly evocative of similar issues.

The first is from CNN: The Pictures that Horrified America.
The article discusses the big push to censor comic book publishing in America, because critics alleged that these materials were corrupting the youth of the day. It certainly directly affected the industry, which took many years to recover.

I’m reminded of a trend we notice in copyright and technology: The New is Scary.
Phonographs? Evil. Cable? Evil. VCRs? Evil. MP3s? Evil. Etc., etc. The emergence of “disruptive” technologies shakes up the status quo, and the powers that be in the status quo respond fearfully- in the case of copyright, sometimes to save their existing power structures and business models. In the case of media, it’s generally to save society (or “the children”).

So video games are the new comic books. Or rock and roll. Or film. Or television. Or television show. Or cable. Or book. We’ve seen the same types of arguments used, the same types of language used, and the same types of “reform” proposed. We’ve seen many, many attempts at the passage of state legislation- that have been found unconstitutional.

The role of research in these arguments- copyright and media alike- is an important subject that needs to be addressed.

Moving on, Law of the Game is a great blog to learn about video game related legal issues. The author, Mark Methenitis, communicates clearly to a wide audience. In his most recent column for gaming weblog Joystiq, he provides a solid introduction to how video games and copyright interact. Because the subject is copyright, naturally there’s a lot more to it- but it’s a great starting place.

There is an occasionally acknowledged tension between copyright and free speech. One thing that makes video games different from other types of entertainment media is that they are generally interactive experiences that require the mediation of technology. Video games themselves are directly attacked as a new media in the manner I mentioned above- that is, there are clear free speech concerns dealing with the publication and expression in games themselves and those that seek to stop such expression for whatever reason. In the copyright realm, though, it’s the end-users who are most affected by law and policy.

Like other forms of software, video games begin their digital lives as digital objects, making them subject to some of the strictest areas of copyright law, such as the DMCA- which prohibits what might otherwise be fair uses. All digital technologies have to deal with those issues to a large extent- particularly when it comes to the preservation of older technologies- but video games are particularly difficult to deal with because of their interactivity. It is difficult to preserve interactivity, and one of the more obvious ways- copying- has a big hurdle to jump in existing copyright law.

Recent actions by the publishers themselves haven’t made this preservation any easier. DRM is both illegal to circumvent- even with what would ordinarily be legal uses- and provides significant technical barriers exacerbated by the commercial lifespan of a game. For example, it’s been announced that console hit Mass Effect is going to have a- well, silly- amount of DRM in its PC release in the form of software that requires one to be connected to a network in order to check the validity of your copy every 10 days or so. Of course, that means the game itself is only playable while those servers are supported. We’ve seen problems in this approach with music or video services that are ended- for example, when Microsoft ended MSN Music, MLB’s changing of access mechanisms, or Google ending Google Video’s purchasing programs. Furthermore, a person is restricted to installing the game on three computers (shades of Apple’s authorized iTunes computers…). This isn’t particularly friendly to end users, and it’s a sure way to destroy the longevity of your work. If I want to play Planescape: Torment now- nearly 10 years after it was originally released- I can. I won’t be able to say the same thing about Mass Effect. That is to say, I wouldn’t have been able to say the same thing had I purchased it- which now, I’m not going to. I’ve got a limited amount of money to spend on entertainment, and I don’t particularly feel like spending it on something I can never return to.

There’s a new Orphan Works Bill in Town

As always, there’s good news and bad news.

There’s an immense amount of erroneous information about the new orphan works bill, primarily from certain people who are worried about their livelihoods. I don’t at all begrudge someone being concerned about their livelihoods. There are definitely some legitimate concerns about the course such a bill could take. I do begrudge hyperbole and poor analysis and the spreading of such information without any attempt at verification. I’m also not entirely happy with some interpretations of copyright law I’ve seen that misconstrue the purpose of copyright and that are flat-out wrong about how existing copyright law works, especially in the international context. That’s more understandable though, since it’s confusing. 😛

It’s not all bad, though. Although the blog world seems to have a lot of the negative talk, there are actually some civil discussions going on from and amongst these same groups.

The bill isn’t intended to be anti-artist. It’s not part of a scheme by the corporate overloads to make more money. It’s not about the government attempting to censor artists. It’s not “a license to steal.” It doesn’t reinstate registration requirement for artists. I find it fascinating that people are making all kinds of allegations about the bill when they haven’t read any version of the proposal- they’re pretty much responding to the initial messages and articles that were sent out by certain individuals and groups.

All I’m really asking is that you read the text of the bill yourself when you have the opportunity, make legitimate criticisms public, and if you think the bill isn’t satisfactory, attempt to come to a solution of the orphan works problem. Because the orphan works problem is not getting any better. That’s actually something a lot of people agree on, artists, educators, librarians, etc. alike. Reading the bills is rarely fun, but if you’re going to share an opinion, please make it an informed one. 😛

You can find pdfs of the current round of Orphan Works legislation at Public Knowledge.

Orphan works are a problem. To quote Georgia Harper

Orphan works are one of the biggest challenges we face today. These are works that are destined never to see the light of digital day unless we find a way to get them online while making reasonable efforts to protect the interests of their owners. The time when obscurity was the only option for non-economically viable works is over. We need to find ways to get on with it.

For a decent introduction to some of the issues, check out the U.S. Copyright Office’s page on orphan works. Most creative works in existence are orphan works. They’re not the ones that are making people’s livelihoods. They’re the ones people are concerned about.

Part of the issue about history, and the preservation and conservation that is necessary to maintain the cultural record. It is very, very difficult for archives, libraries, and museums to preserve certain types of materials in a usable form- particularly when they’re dealing with digital works. The proposed law provides such institutions with some protections for using orphan works. And guess what? People who work at libraries, archives, and museums are not out to destroy art or artists. Far from it.

Part of the issue is about education. We deal with these orphaned materials on a daily basis at the iSchool, and we’re heavily constrained in what we can do with them. Other departments face similar issues, although I suspect the impact on us is a bit stronger because of digitization curriculum. I might be wrong there, though.

In the text at least one version of the bill, users of orphan works also have to register their intent to use such orphan works, and also mark the use in a way that identifies the work as used as an orphan work. Furthermore, people cannot simply find an unmarked image and declare that worked orphaned. Additionally, people do have to make a reasonable search in order to use the work at all. In the case where the creator is found, there are provisions for the creator to receive payment. And woe betide the person who acts in bad faith (whom are what most of those who are maligning the bill are worried about). We all worry about bad actors.

There are burdens all around, but it’s a start.

Yet more reasons to respect Neil Gaiman

http://journal.neilgaiman.com/2008/04/fair-use-and-other-things.html

Neil Gaiman comments on the Rowling Lexicon case, fair use, and the nature of creation. Plus, he’s heavily involved with the Comic Book Defense Fund.

Lots of emails from people asking me to comment on the JK Rowling/ Steve Vander Ark copyright case. My main reaction is, having read as much as I can about it, given the copyright grey zone it seems to exist in, is a “Well, if it was me, I’d probably be flattered”, but that obviously isn’t how J.K. Rowling feels. I can’t imagine myself trying to stop any of the unauthorised books that have come out about me or about things I’ve created over the years, and where possible I’ve tried to help, and even when I haven’t liked them I’ve shrugged and let it go.

He follows up here:
http://journal.neilgaiman.com/2008/04/few-final-copyright-thoughts-before-we.html

and he makes a lot of great points.

Section 108 Study Group Report Released

http://www.section108.gov/docs/Sec108StudyGroupReport.pdf

At 212 pages, it’s not going to be a quick read. Let’s see what happens to copyright and libraries, archives, and museums…