I love ebooks. Despite their unimaginative page design, monotonous fonts, curious approach to hyphenation, and clunky annotation utilities, they’re convenient and easy on my aging eyes. But I wish they didn’t come wrapped in legalese.
Whenever I read a book on my iPad, for example, I have tacitly agreed to the 15,000-word statement of terms and conditions for the iTunes store. It’s written by lawyers in language so dense and tedious it seems designed not to be read, except by other lawyers, and that’s odd, since these Terms of Service agreements (TOS) concern the use of books that are designed to be read.
But that’s OK, because Apple, the source of iBooks, and Amazon, with its similar Kindle Store, are not really publishers and not really booksellers. They’re “content providers” who function as third-party agents. And these agents seem to think that ebooks are not really books: Apple insists on calling them, not iBooks, but “iBooks Store Products,” and Amazon calls them, not Kindle books, but “Kindle Content.”
. . . .
[I]f you get hurt in the park while reading an iBook, don’t blame Apple—they’re simply go-betweens who provide the product but take no responsibility for it:
IN NO EVENT SHALL LICENSOR BE LIABLE FOR PERSONAL INJURY OR ANY INCIDENTAL, SPECIAL, INDIRECT, OR CONSEQUENTIAL DAMAGES WHATSOEVER, INCLUDING, WITHOUT LIMITATION . . . DAMAGES OR LOSSES, ARISING OUT OF OR RELATED TO YOUR USE OR INABILITY TO USE THE LICENSED APPLICATION, HOWEVER CAUSED, REGARDLESS OF THE THEORY OF LIABILITY (CONTRACT, TORT, OR OTHERWISE) AND EVEN IF LICENSOR HAS BEEN ADVISED OF THE POSSIBILITY OF SUCH DAMAGES. [Caps in the original]
Conventional printed books, or “book books”—which in the old days we simply called books—don’t require a click-to-agree before reading. Imagine if Gutenberg made his readers accept these conditions from Amazon’s Kindle Store before they could read the Bibles he printed on that first printing press, back in the 1450s (readers is an archaic term for what we call end users today):
Unless specifically indicated otherwise, you may not sell, rent, lease, distribute, broadcast, sublicense, or otherwise assign any rights to the Kindle Content or any portion of it to any third party, and you may not remove or modify any proprietary notices or labels on the Kindle Content. In addition, you may not bypass, modify, defeat, or circumvent security features that protect the Kindle Content.
I mean, try plugging that into Google translate and see what comes out.
. . . .
What if that applied to “book books” as well? An analog version of Kindle’s Digital Rights Management agreement (DRM) wouldn’t let you lend your Gutenberg Bible to a friend, give it away, sell it at a garage sale, donate it to an adult literacy program, or use it to press flowers. Nor could you make it publicly available, for example, by reading it aloud during a religious service. Plus it turns out that unlike Apple, which has more money than God, Gutenberg barely made ends meet selling his Bibles, even though the few copies that survived the ravages of time are worth millions today. If Gutenberg had had the foresight to license his Bibles instead of selling them outright, his descendants and heirs would still own the rights to those first books, or as they might prefer to call them, those Analog Scriptural Piety Artifacts (aSPAs).