Putting a spell on your readers

Access restrictions on electronic publications attempt to oblige users (including lawful ones) to use reader software provided by the publisher - and no other. That reader software provides the publisher with the ability to annul traditional rights of the reader.

One cannot bind lawful purchasers of a book by a notice in the book (i.e. if a book's title page says stuff about `by reading any more of this book you implicitly agree to terms and conditions we chose to make up' the reader can safely ignore it - except, possibly, if advised of such restrictions at the time of purchase), nor does orthodox copyright provide for any similar restraint in conjunction with listening to music or watching films (though reminding you of how the law does restrain you is fair enough - and common practice). Examples:

However, software publishers have managed to establish a de facto exception to this: one can bind users of software by the terms and conditions of a document presented to them when they install or run the software (though it's not at all clear that the restraint is in any way binding on, say, the heirs of someone who installed the software and died without telling their heirs about the license which is nowhere visible except during installation). It's possible, in most of the world, that courts wouldn't uphold such `agreements'; but bits of the U.S.A. in which UCITA (pronounced `you cheater') is law will uphold them.

By constraining you to access a publication via software they control, publishers acquire the ability to impose similar restrictions on their customers that were (deliberately) never feasible with books. Examples:

And while we're at it, let's not forget:

so you hire a programmer to write you a viewer which serves your needs; or you are a programmer and do the job yourself. You've lawfully purchased a bona fide copy of the publication, you don't make illicit copies, you may even have made the program restrain users from copying the publication, but you and/or the programmer publish your program (whose copyright, after all, you and/or the programmer own). You and the programmer get sued under the DMCA (next time either of you sets foot in a jurisdiction which believes in it). Apparently, like Dmitry Sklyarov, you're `pirates' and the publishers aren't greedy paranoid extortionists.

Corporate publishers are pushing legislators to grant (via laws such as the U.S.A.'s DMCA and the E.U.'s copyright directive) secrecy-protection to the data formats they use to store publications on their distribution media:

Legislators would appear to be suckers for this kind of bogus justification for the erosion of our rights. (Remember RIP ?) Something must be done ... about this situation - I know, why don't we pillory the legislators and publishing executives (there's more logical link between this problem and proposed solution than between the pair the publishers trumpet).

The data formats the publishers are describing as `copy-protection measures' are really just access restrictions - designed to restrict lawful purchasers' access to the publications by requiring them to access the data only via the publishers' software, thus preventing the emergence of a free market in access software.

Written by Eddy.
$Id: spell.html,v 1.2 2001/08/28 11:35:39 eddy Exp $