Douwe Osinga's Blog: Kindle & Copyright

Sunday, August 2, 2009

I bought my wife an early birth day present in form of the Kindle 2. A coworker had one and we like it and now I have a birth day present and a cool gadget. What's not to like?

The fact that Amazon doesn't do the kindle outside of the US, that's what's not to like. They'll sell you the machine (if you provide a US address to ship to), but then when you have the thing and you try to order a book they say that there are geographical restrictions and I should lease refer to the terms of use for this product to determine the geographical restrictions. Couldn't find any of the terms of use. They don't even let you download books that are out of copyright where it really is hard to see where those terms of use would come from.

Amazon has a nice setup to buy books and subscriptions and I was really looking forward to using it, but when that turned out to be impossible, I checked some of the other options. Different copyright laws in Australia for example mean that books are out of copyright here, while they're still paid for in the US (most interestingly 1984 fits this case).

Meanwhile your average bit torrent search engine will let you download the complete works of Bill Bryson in a few minutes for free. It is quite impressive what you can get that way - this weeks economist is downloadable illegally before it makes its way to my Australian home.

I send an email to Amazon support and they said that my one-click delivery address was set to the address of my parents in law. I didn't know I had a one-click delivery address, but indeed, after I changed that (and for good measure did the payments through an Amazon gift certificate and tunnelled my traffic through some server in the US) it started to work just fine.

But it makes you wonder. We now have the technology to give each person for a few hundred dollars a device that could hold 1500 books. I know, I know the Internet could give everybody access to all the worlds information all the time too and has been able to do that for a while, but it requires cables, upkeep, computers. With a kindle like device we really could bring the worlds information to everybody.

If it wasn't for copyright of course. A kindle full of books costs the same as an ipod full of songs. It really doesn't seem very likely that copyright is really our best way to get books into the hands of as many people as possibly while paying authors for what they do.