[free-sklyarov] E-books solving a problem consumers don't have

Seth Johnson seth.johnson at Realmeasures.dyndns.org
Sat Aug 11 18:10:11 PDT 2001

This article (link and excerpt below) moves into the area the publishers
want us to go: a consumer interests analysis of information technology,
incorporating a reassuringly "enlightened" recognition, in confronting
the issues of the Sklyarov case, that something like an e-book is not
necessarily sensible from a consumer interests standpoint anyway.

It creates an artificial distinction between publishers and anybody else
that has the ability to produce and broadcast information from their
desktops, and constructs an occasion for the airing of the plight of
publishers entirely in outmoded terms, rather than in terms of the facts
that their industry is actually entering obsolescence, and that the
"consumers" of e-books are actually fully-empowered information
producers; that is, citizens in a free society.  Rather than recognizing
that the productive use of information is a fundamental right, it
instead phrases the matter as a question of who can "control" e-books,
and whether e-books are good for consumers.

This is why it's so important to stress the fact that we are all not
merely information consumers, and we never have been.

The Sklyarov situation is not necessarily about the market success or
failure of the e-book, but rather about creating the appearance that
something is at stake that is more important than free speech, that
presumably warrants the enactment of something like the Digital
Millennium Copyright Anticircumvention Act.  If we don't put across the
free speech analysis, whether Sklyarov gets prosecuted or convicted will
be of little concern to the progenitors of the DMCA, for whom the
greatest concern is whether they manage to set the terms of how the
impact of information technology on society will be analyzed.  Even if
Dmitry goes free and the DMCA is repealed, what counts most to his
prosecutors is that people think that their motives in setting up TRIPS
and the DMCA were valid.  While this article blinks completely
concerning the free speech issues, it explicitly presents the
publishers' motives: the survival of their industry.

Seth Johnson

(Watch the word wrap)

E-books solving a problem consumers don't have

By David Streitfeld
August 9, 2001


Richard DeGrandpre wrote "Digitopia" as a warning about the false
promises of the wired world. Then it was published as an electronic
book, and all his predictions came true.

"Digitopia," issued by Random House in March, was never reviewed or
promoted or, it seems, downloaded. "My book is just dead," said
DeGrandpre, a psychologist.

So are just about everyone else's e-books. The publishing world's
attempts to turn electronic fiction and non-fiction into a lucrative
revenue stream have yielded only a trickle of customers.

Flaccid sales aside, publishers face even bigger challenges. Digitizing
the printed page has put the very nature of books up for grabs,
unleashing heated battles among writers, readers, librarians and
technologists over who should control electronic books.

"There's only one place e-books are popular: the courtroom," said
publishing consultant Lorraine Shanley.

This week in San Jose, Calif., a judge released on bail the defendant in
the most explosive e-book case yet.

A Russian graduate student named Dmitry Sklyarov was arrested three
weeks ago for writing a program that breaks the encryption on e-books.
Prosecutors say he was violating copyright law. Sklyarov's defenders say
he was merely trying to give owners of e-books some of the same rights
that owners of printed volumes have.

The first person to be jailed under the Digital Millennium Copyright
Act, Sklyarov could receive a sentence of up to five years.

"Arresting Sklyarov was insane, but there's an increasing tension
between people who need and use information and those who want to
control it," said Michael Mellin, a consultant who founded Random
House's electronic publishing operation.

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