Saturday, October 22, 2011

Open E-books to Read

One of the problems with DRM on e-books is that locking e-books to a particular platform also locks the book to particular reading software. I like e-books for a lot of reasons: their portability and the convenience of being able to purchase them instantly being among those reasons. However, one of the biggest potentials of e-books, and one that is curtailed by DRM, is the potential of using technology platforms to facilitate serious reading and learning.

Software can facilitate reading and notetaking, or it can make reading and notetaking difficult. The platforms I've used to read ebooks are fine for reading novels, but terrible for browsing through a book, and terrible for note-taking. That's why e-books are not suitable as textbooks or for any kind of serious reading that requires note-taking. The note-taking features provided in a lot of the software is not only awful; it ties the notes to the software. Upgrading to a different technology or software can entail losing not only one's books but also one's notes. Export features are also dismal, in my experience.

E-books should be open, and note-taking formats should be saved in and exportable to standard formats. This would allow true competition among reading platforms, so that when one does upgrade to new technology one can be assured of being able to bring one's books, and one's notes, along to the new platform.

There is nothing so fundamental as reading and learning. Business models should not be built on systems that short-circuit technologcial potentials that could otherwise facilitate reading and learning. Locking up ebooks is wrong and backwards, and especially bad for serious reading and learning.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

That's not modernization

Debates began yesterday in Canadian Parliament on copyright reform. Conservative Industry Minister Christian Paradis introduced the bill and its various features, noting that various common private non-commercial uses of works would be reasonably allowed, that provisions would be created allowing for certain uses of works such as by the visually impaired, and that damages for copyright infringment would be reduced to something much more reasonable than what we have seen in some other countries. All of this is excellent and signals that the Canadian govenrment is aware of and responsive to the many hurdles that Canadians face as users and creators of copyright works.

However, Minister Paradis also pointed a feature of the bill that is highly criticized. He noted that many of the copyright exceptions of the bill - those very features that make it so reasonable - "do not apply to works protected by a technological protection measure or digital lock." This, he says, is because "Copyright holders told us that their digital and on-line business models depend on the robust protection provided by digital locks."

Copyright holders should not be given free reign and a different copyright - a much broader copyright - in the digital environment. Public interest provisions should not suddenly disappear in a digital environment. The digitial environment is one where public interest exceptions matter the most. Do we want a digital learning environment where books are locked away from legitimate readers, paid-for music can be locked from its paid-up owner, and where publicly-owned content can be locked away from its very public? Of course not!

Although the act is officially titled the "Copyright Modernization Act", the modernization of Canadian copyright is held back by a different kind of piracy: one that creates provisions that would allow individuals and corporations to lock up and hold hostage content and uses that should righly be free. That's not modernization.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

The state of IP multilateralism

Michael Geist reports that Canada will sign has signed the new Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), possibly this weekend. However, the word is that ACTA may be short on signatures and may never come into force.

The possibility that ACTA would not come into force is one of several possibilities that I mentioned in my paper "WIPO and the ACTA Threat", forthcoming with the International Journal of Technology Policy and Law and published in a previous working-paper version in the PIJIP Working Paper Series.

If the agreement does fail to come into force, it would be more good news for the World Intellectual Property Organization. ACTA was a treaty negotiated outside of a true multilateral framework - an agreement made behind closed doors on an invitation-only basis. WIPO's Director General has called ACTA "a bad development" for WIPO and broader multilateral processes, a response to multilateral institutions' weakness and recnet inability to conclude broad-based treaties. IP-Watch reports progress in the recent negotation of a new audiovisual treaty, calling this 'a boost' to the multilateral intellectual property system. Another agreement for visually impaired also seems to be progressing well.

A boost for WIPO is relatively good news for weaker parties who had no voice in the development of ACTA but who do have some voice at WIPO.

Update: IP-Watch has an interesting article on where WIPO stands on its enforcement activities.