What this Country Needs is a Good Pirated Version of Kindle E-Books

“When someone buys a book, they are also buying the right to resell that book, to loan it out, or to even give it away if they want. Everyone understands this.” –Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, 2002.

“You may not sell, rent, lease, distribute, broadcast, sublicense or otherwise assign any rights to the Digital Content or any portion of it to any third party, and you may not remove any proprietary notices or labels on the Digital Content. In addition, you may not, and you will not encourage, assist or authorize any other person to, bypass, modify, defeat or circumvent security features that protect the Digital Content.”
–Amazon Kindle, Terms of Service, 2007

Don’t buy the Kindle—at least until The Pirate Bay figures out how to crack its DRM and you can share ebooks files online. Until then, stick to buying your books on paper (or just check them out from the library and scan them). You can lend them or sell them at your own discretion, carry them around with you and read them wherever you want, without permission. In other words, when you pay for them they’re really yours.

I say that, by the way, as someone who markets a book via Amazon. I refuse to put out a Kindle edition of anything I’ve written. If you’ve got a Kindle reader and want Amazon to convert a pdf file of my books, have at it. I make it clear that everything I write is freely available under the Woody Guthrie public license: “Anyone found using our content without our permission will be considered mighty good friends of ours.” I refuse to enable the distributors of my work to behave abusively toward my readers, by stealing content they’ve previously paid for, or in any other way.

And as it turns out, if Amazon suspends your Kindle account (say, because you returned stuff too often), your reader becomes an inert chunk of plastic suitable for use as a doorstop or paperweight. All the e-books you’ve already bought and paid for can no longer be read. If you fall afoul of Amazon’s good graces, they’ll destroy your reader by remote and make the e-books you already “own” utterly worthless.

This is just another example of the general rule that, when it comes to digital content, you don’t ever own anything. As Cory Doctorow put it:

“in the name of protecting ‘intellectual property,’ big media companies are willing to do… violence to the idea of real property—arguing that everything we own, from our t-shirts to our cars to our ebooks, embody someone’s copyright, patent and trademark, that we’re basically just tenant farmers, living on the land of our gracious masters who’ve seen fit to give us a lease on our homes.”

If only somebody would figure out how to hack the Kindle’s DRM so you can duplicate e-book files and distribute them online.

The good news is that DRM is the biggest motivating force behind piracy. The DRM’ed stuff you buy “legally” seems deliberately calculated to be an affront to your convenience. You can’t switch from one platform to another, despite the fact that you supposedly “bought” it, because that would make it easy to lend to other people who might not pay for it. And it’s illegal to circumvent DRM so you can use the content you published in a way that’s easy for you. The traditional copyright doctrines of “fair use” and “first sale” that apply to printed material go out the window when it comes to digital content. But if you download a DRM-free version via a file-sharing network, you can do with it whatever you damn well please, without paying for the privilege of being kicked in the teeth.

The totalitarian lockdown society that the DRM mentality leads to, if pursued to its logical conclusion, was brilliantly illustrated by Richard Stallman in “The Right to Read” (just Google it—it’s free).

To repeat, DRM generates demand for pirated content.

And as it happens, Hugh D’Andrade of the Electronic Frontier Foundation claims Kindle’s DRM has already been cracked. Peter Sunde, one of the founders of Pirate Bay, last September expressed interest in the Kindle; he requested third party assistance in purchasing a reader and setting up a dummy account. Sunde was one of recently convicted The Pirate Bay defendants, but when it’s “hack Kindle’s DRM” time cracking down on particular individuals is like standing on the beach and commanding the tide to halt.

So please, somebody—hack the Kindle. The real pirates are at Amazon.

Anarchy and Democracy
Fighting Fascism
Markets Not Capitalism
The Anatomy of Escape
Organization Theory