15 April 2009

RMS on Amazon's "Swindle"

As you've probably seen, there is concern over Amazon's plans to pull the text-to-voice capability of the Kindle e-book reader, because of misguided pressure from authors groups in the US. There's been a lot of discussion about this, and how to react to it, on the A2k mailing list, including the following characteristic submission from a certain Richard M Stallman:

I sympathize with the feeling behind these protests, but they are directed at the wrong target.

The protestors rightly condemn the Authors Guild for demanding the removal of the screen reader feature, but the way they are doing it makes Amazon look like a victim. Actually it is the main perpetrator.

The reason that Amazon can turn off the screen reader capability is that the machines use non-free software, controlled by Amazon rather than by the user. If Amazon can turn this off retroactively (does anyone know for certain if they did?), it implies the product has a dangerous back door.

In addition, the Amazon Swindle is designed with Digital Restrictions Management to stop people from sharing. It is a nasty product with an evil goal.

I hope there will be protests against Amazon's role in these events.

Well, at least he's consistent.

Follow me on Twitter @glynmoody


Anonymous said...

Yes, he's extremely consistent and for the most part it seems extremely right.

DRM on music seems to have been abandoned, which thankfully means I can buy music and if necessary convert it to a free format. Some sites even sell flac versions of albums (I bought the last Byrne Eno album that way).

Books are the next DRM frontier. I so want a kindle. It may not be released in the UK yet but I still want one. I travel a lot and havign access to many books in a small form factor would be immensely useful. I'm not buying oen though, not until I can buy DRM free books. I don't want to buy a licence to read a book for as long as I have a particular device, I want to be able to read the book on whatever device I have in the future and convert it to any format I need to.

The Authors Guild are idiotic in their stance. They should be happy for people to have as many avenues as possible to obtain and read books. This means making use of technology that emerges, not trying to hang on to the profitable audio book sector and attempt to squash technology that might eat it's sales when it gets better. It's going to be a very long time before a computer can emote whilst reading, so the actors reading audio books are probably fairly safe for now and 20 years down the line there will be plenty of other distribution methods available.

This reminds me of the PRS v. Youtube debacle, where a dinosaur is not getting on the technology bandwagon and is in the process hurting the sales of the people they represent.

RMS is right though, if the kindle were not closed up on the application side of things there would be no off switch for the audio and that would benefit many people: those who are visually impaired for a start.

The solution might be for consumers to demand that the entire stack of any solution they buy is free software but that seems unlikely to happen.

Glyn Moody said...

Yes, I agree: music is done, but books are just beginning for DRM.

And the Authors Guild just look greedy and mean spirited in the face of millions of blind people who saw text to voice on the Kindle as a huge boon.

Catharina said...

RMS is right again. Fortunetaly there is an open source e-book reader available. Look for the Bebook.

Glyn Moody said...

Thanks - I'd not come across that.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps books should be free and authors make their money from reading gigs. (I'm only half joking here.)

Glyn Moody said...

Certainly, there are lots of ways authors can make money from their books indirectly, which means they might be able to give the books away, at least in digital format, which is becoming more common.

Anonymous said...

Checking the Bebook site, it supports Mobipocket's DRM format. Clearly this isn't open source.

Further, their main site doesn't seem mention open source but their forums do. A Bebook support person wrote that the Bebook is open standard but not fully open source, here:


Until the DRMed content war is won there seems little point in buying an ebook reader.

Glyn Moody said...

Thanks for the update. As you say, ebooks remain a minefield at present. Perhaps Canonical should come out with one...?

Unknown said...

Do you ever sleep?

Further perusal of the bebook site shows that some of their software is GPL. Their forum also mentions non-compliance in the past. So it's in much the same position as the Kindle.

If Canonical come out with one, I wonder if it will boot as fast as my new Jolly Jack-in-the-box RC install. I swear, I almost don't have time to fall asleep in the bios + 35 seconds it takes to boot. If 35 seconds is fast booting, I'm clearly badly informed by booting things like xpud in bios + 3 seconds.

Glyn Moody said...

Tricky things, these e-books, but increasingly important...