Buy our E-book and shut up

We believe in E-books. We may have figured out how to make our forthcoming pulp edition work in up to four related electronic formats. (Speaking of Pulp, can we get Jarvis Cocker to write a blurb?)

Your larger publishing cartels are shitting cobblestones about electronic books, pricing them too high, locking them into expensive, fragile, unappealing proprietary readers, and pretending that the repeated incantation of “We’re worried about another Napster” actually means such is likely.

What now? Well, you can’t read fairy tales out loud anymore. An edition of Alice in Wonderland declares “This book cannot be read aloud.” Merely a mistake on Adobe’s part, shurely?! Alice in Wonderland is in the public domain and the E-book is free of charge, right?

While the entire idea is plainly ridiculous, it is not without basis in law. Reading a book out loud is not duplication (what everyone thinks of when they hear the word “copyright”), but it is performance, and performance rights are retained by the copyright holder. But performance rights only ever pop up in written plays and scripts, not novels. (Technically, despite their low profile, performance rights are still embodied in a novel. They are merely irrelevant most of the time.)

It is possible to copyright a rendition of a work in the public domain. Adobe has the right to enforce performance restrictions. Except – whoops! – to “read aloud” a book is not necessarily performance. Is it a public performance? Are there any spectators?

Nope. Score one for common sense.

And did you know you can’t lend the book or give it away? (Of course, Adobe has very specific interpretations of those terms.)

Maybe we’re better off with the publishing cartels out of the E-book business. In their urge to avoid a Napster redux, they’re ending up more paranoid, hermetic, controlling, and antagonistic than the record industry. (Courtney Love, give ’em heck!)

Posted on 2001-03-21