September 30, 2008  ·  Lessig

Ben Jones has a piece about my book, Free Culture, being made available on Kindle, a platform that uses DRM.

In my view, the “free culture” test for a work is whether it is available freely — not whether it is also available not freely. “Free Culture” is available freely — meaning, it is licensed freely here. One can put that freely licensed version on a Kindle, freely. I hadn’t known my publisher was going to make Free Culture available on the Kindle, but now that they have, I’d be very keen to have a version I can make freely available on the “Free Culture” remix page.

“But shouldn’t,” one could well argue, “you not support DRM technologies at all?” That’s a valid position taken by many I respect. My view, however, is that one supports the campaign to avoid debilitating DRM by making culture freely available. New technologies will try all sorts of new deals to make things competitive. So long as free, open format versions are available to compete with that, I am not concerned about the DRM’d version existing as well.

Ben’s post claims that one would violate “the DMCA by circumventing the DRM, it is hard to put the pdf version of the book on the Kindle.” I don’t get this. There’s no violating of the DMCA when one adapts the format of a work as permitted by the copyright holder. Indeed, I should think the DMCA is violated by any effort to restrict the rights granted by a license — including the CC license rights. So any problem here is not the user’s — it is Kindle’s.

Anyway, I may be wrong about this. And I’ll be listening to see.

  • http://commonsware.com Mark Murphy

    Note that the Kindle format is only DRM-ridden for the format that is integrated into the Amazon Kindle store. It is possible to create the same basic file, sans DRM, and distribute it by other means (e.g., download from Web site). The Kindle user would have to schlep the file over to the device via a USB cable, versus coming down via Whispernet, but once on the device the user experience would be the same.

    I have only created sans-DRM Kindle books. However, I am under the impression that to create the DRM-ified version, you create the sans-DRM version and wrap it in the DRM. Hence, your publisher may have the sans-DRM edition lying around.

  • http://trevorstone.org/ Trevor Stone

    This seems to somewhat parallel the philosophical differences between software licenses with GPL on one side and BSD/Apache on the other. The former says “We’ve put work into this product, so you need to distribute it in a way that other people can work on it to.” The latter says “We’ve put work into this product and would love for you to distribute it in an open fashion, but we realize that not everyone can do that. And we’d rather have people use our stuff than not use it.” Both approaches can have their ups and downs. The success of one approach or the other depends in part on how supportive the ecosystem becomes. A lot of projects with Apache-style licenses have succeeded because people come together to share work on a common good while keeping their other work proprietary. A lot of projects with GPL-style licenses have succeeded because they’ve inspired people to say “I can do better on aspect X!” and then they’re compelled to share those improvements.

    If people read a DRM version of Free Culture and are inspired to apply the ideals by using open licenses for creative works, I think there’s a net benefit. And as you say, folks can always get non-DRM versions if they like. Similarly, Linux distributions can distribute the OS in all sorts of ways as long as they make the source code available to the buyer. Analogously, Free Culture the DRM version can point to Free Culture the DRM-free version.

  • http://gnuosphere.wordpress.com Peter

    “In my view, the “free culture” test for a work is whether it is available freely — not whether it is also available not freely.”

    And the same goes for free software. That is, some free software (i.e. non-copylefted software) can be modified and turned into proprietary software. But just because it is done, doesn’t mean the original isn’t free software. There are however, strong reasons why a software developer might wish to use copyleft while for a lot of Free Culture, share-alike (Free Culture’s version of copyleft) isn’t necessarily important.

  • Blake

    If you have a plain text version of your book on the remix page, you already have a version that works on the Kindle. The device does a very nice job of rendering plain text, as it turns out. The only issue I’ve had is that it interprets newline characters as a new paragraph, so for example when I download Project Gutenberg formatted text, I have to run a lightweight script on the file to strip the extra newlines, leaving each paragraph as a single line with a carriage return between paragraphs. After that, Kindle takes care of all the kerning, etc.

    If you’re really into the bells and whistles of the format, like hyperlinks to chapters, etc., I understand Kindle format itself is just DRMed Mobipocket, and I believe it will read unprotected Mobi just fine.

  • John Millington

    As the copyright holder for this work, which happens to be protected by a technological measure that limits access, do you authorize people to bypass the technological measure?

  • Adrian Kunzle

    I have just emailed the pdf (downloaded from your site) to my Kindle, and while it isn’t perfect, the main blocks of text are very readable. A mobipocket version would be the best. As Blake mentioned, unprotected mobipocket format is natively displayable on a Kindle. PDF has to go through a “format translator”, hence the need to email it to my Kindle. Amazon translate it on the way.