eBook user Bill of Rights

This post started as a comment on this post, but it became really long,┬áso 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.


Don’t believe what you read

I’m an atheist. More than that, if I find out that you believe in a higher power there’s a good chance that I will think less of you. I’ve tried not to, really I have, but if I learn that you need to believe in a supernatural being to make sense of the world instead of allowing yourself to see how truly magnificent it all is and how wondrous the rules that govern our Universe are to make it all possible without requiring some bearded engineer in the sky, I can’t help it.

This is why I currently have a problem at work. I work with some of the smartest people I’ve ever met. I’ve thought that before at previous jobs but, no offense to those of you I’ve worked with in the past, they had nothing on the people I interact with every day. Around my offices are whiteboards, presumably meant for collaborative discussions or maybe just for janitors to solve our problems for us, I don’t know. The one nearest me, however, is being used by someone to spread The Word. Missives such as “God is love” and “Jesus loves you” have been appearing daily 1.

So what can I do? I don’t know who’s doing it so I can’t have a chat with them, and even if I did I don’t expect them to understand my offense. I could belittle the comments by adding my own snarky comments, but that’s likely to just create contention rather than making the author understand anything. I could erase them, but it’s not my place to censor others, and in previous days when the board has been erased the author has just re-written them. I have been trying to ignore it but it really gets to me every day that I walk past and see it.

This has come to a head today because the people I sat next to at breakfast said grace before eating. I know, I know, it’s not like they said or did anything deeply offensive in the grand scheme of things, but seeing and hearing that ritual today, in a workplace built on science and rationality, when I’m already on edge thanks to the writings, seemed more than anachronistic; it seemed illicit, even subversive.

It’s entirely possible that I’m massively over-reacting and just need to shake my head and walk on by. However, I wonder what the reaction from others would be if instead of “God” or “Jesus” it said “Allah” or “Mohammed”.

I also realize in writing this that I am somewhat hypocritical, though I can reason my way out of it to protect my ego. A couple of months ago some Buddhist monks were in the building creating and destroying a mandala. I took no offense to their presence and certainly enjoyed the beauty of their creation. Why should I be more offended by Christian messages on a white-board than by a more visible presence of monks performing a multi-day ritual? My reasoning is that what the monks were doing was spiritual to them, but could be seen in non-religious tones by me. The messages on the white-board, however, are clearly an effort to force religion into peoples’ lives.

I think I’m going to continue to do nothing but rant quietly in my corner of the internet.┬áBesides, if I can’t write about this stuff on my blog, where can I write about it?

  1. The most recent one refered to 2012 as “the End”.

My traveling companion

It was nine years ago today that @mirtos and I met. Not for the first time, that had been two years earlier, but this time with an understanding that we were going to spend some time together, getting to know each other.

Fast forward five years and we’re living in Vancouver and getting married, in the front room of our apartment, in our socks.

Fast forward another two years and we’re living in San Francisco, having been in Singapore for most of the intervening time, pursuing new careers and sharing an apartment with two dogs.

It has been a crazy adventure but I wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much, or even gone on it, without my best friend, who happens to be my wife, to share it with.

Happy anniversary doesn’t even come close.