This post started as a comment on this post, but it became really long, so you should read that first and then come back to read my thoughts. I’ll wait.
I have a problem with the approach outlined in this post. I understand the issues, and am frustrated that media ownership has become media leasing across the board from music, to movies, and now books. I want to own something when I pay money for it unless it is explicit that I am entering into a rental agreement. Electronic books, digital copies of movies bundled with Blu-Ray copies, and music from online retailers, are not advertised as rentals but as purchases. Of course there is the small print, the EULA, the Terms and Conditions, that to varying degrees specify the rights of the purchaser in regards to use of the product, but I am not aware of any that are explicitly rental agreements and that is exactly what they are becoming.
So on to books.
Let’s be clear: Traditional books suffer from the same copyright issues as digital media. There is nothing stopping me from buying a book, reading it, copying huge chunks of it, and publishing my own book plagiarizing the work. Similarly, I can, should I have the time and patience, copy the pages, bind them, and sell them myself. Or is there? Of course there is. There are existing legal processes in place for dealing with copyright infringement outside of the digital realm. It is important that we work to make publishers and distributors see that there is no difference between the traditional and digital spaces. It may be harder to track the perpetrator of copyright infringement, and it may be easier for the crime to be perpetrated, when dealing with digital media but the legal framework is already there. Changing the relationship between the publisher and the purchaser by setting limits on lending or sharing, or limiting how I can store and access the media I have purchased is equivalent to, and as ridiculous as, replacing bookshops with libraries and printing books using ink or paper that deteriorates on each read or after a fixed amount of time.
If any publisher tried to do this to traditional books they would be faced with an almighty uproar from the public and laughed out of business.
So on to the eBook User’s Bill of Rights.
I applaud Sarah Houghton-Jan’s efforts to raise the volume of protest regarding this issue. I applaud all bloggers and writers who are trying to raise awareness of this issue. But I do not think this is the right way to go about it for one simple reason:
Traditional media consumers do not require a Bill of Rights.
By setting up a Bill of Rights we are strengthening the belief that digital media consumption is different to traditional media consumption and requires special treatment. This is one of the foundations for the argument for Digital Rights Management and is a false premise. The right way to push back on this issue is to show that digital media and traditional media are equivalent and the users’ rights are equivalent. We do not have or need a Bill of Rights for traditional media and should not need one for digital media.
I agree with the central tenet of Houghton-Jan’s Bill of Rights, and I am also sympathetic to those who suffer copyright infringement, but it is important to find the similarities between traditional and digital media rather than highlighting the differences. We need to show how ridiculous a concept DRM is and encourage the legal system to find ways to protect ownership of copyright that make sense for all media irregardless of delivery system.
That, or maybe it’s time to question the notion of copyright as a fundamental truth.