Saturday, April 24, 2010

Explicit copy function

Following a buzz link earlier to "When copyright goes bad" (youtube), spurred me on to look up "the right to read" - the only Stallman essay I have read.

It is painted quite dark in places, but I think of that, as perhaps saying "Danger cliff ahead", when you reckon people should pause for thought.

An extract from this fictional essay below.

For Dan Halbert, the road to Tycho began in college—when Lissa Lenz asked to borrow his computer. Hers had broken down, and unless she could borrow another, she would fail her midterm project. There was no one she dared ask, except Dan.

This put Dan in a dilemma. He had to help her—but if he lent her his computer, she might read his books. Aside from the fact that you could go to prison for many years for letting someone else read your books, the very idea shocked him at first. Like everyone, he had been taught since elementary school that sharing books was nasty and wrong—something that only pirates would do.

If all students were given Apple's latest book reading device, would we be moving closer to this fiction?

In "When copyright goes bad" there is an important point I think, which says that, when we moved from tape recordings to drag 'n' drop music libraries, we changed things in an important way...we introduced an explicit copy function (music store -> local computer).

Replacing school books with slates or similar, that are populated from online book stores, again introduces an explicit copy function. With that explicit function, you welcome into your school increased control by another outside authority.

If the device was simply a book reader but nothing else, and the school distributed electronic materials themselves to all devices, then you would maybe not require some login and 'personal rights'. Perhaps you could even (at a state level) negotiate campus wide access agreements to educational materials, rather than a per student system.

Including internet access on the device, would likely result in a login requirement, and that makes things real convenient for organisations who favour personal "right to read" restrictions for books.

Links and further reading:

The extract featuring the characters Dan Halbert and Lissa Lenz, is from an essay by Richard Stallman, from the February 1997 issue of Communications of the ACM (Volume 40, Number 2).

That extract in original form appears here and includes the trailer
"Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article is permitted in any medium without royalty provided this notice is preserved."

My short commentary is of little merit really, but as I included an extract, the above notice applies.

The comments I make are personal opinions, and I include the essay extract, as it stimulated my thoughts. Please read the original essay in its original form. It is not my intention to dilute or paraphrase "the right to read" or "When copyright goes bad" in any negative way. I will be happy to remove my article entirely if the authors feel my comments have this effect.
Non login contact available at

No comments: