Richard Stallman Takes Aim At eBooks

by Sam Dean - Jun. 08, 2011Comments (2)

Enthusiasm for eBooks seems to know no bounds these days, with Amazon even noting that its eBook sales are outpacing sales of hardback and paperback books. Free software pundit Richard Stallman isn't having any of the trend, though. In an article titled "The Dangers of eBooks," highlighted by PC Pro, Stallman builds a case against eBooks. His rant is not dissimilar to the one he recently supplied against smartphones, where he even noted that he doesn't carry a cell phone. When it comes to eBooks, Stallman has some particularly notable objections.

Stallman claims that eBooks "don't respect our freedom," and points to the DRM that comes with eBooks downloaded from Amazon (DRM is also built into many eBooks from other suppliers).  He also notes that "Amazon requires users to identify themselves to get an eBook."

As was true in his recent rant against smartphones, Stallman goes a little too far with his eBook diatribe. After all, Project Gutenberg, Google Books and numerous other projects are focused on completely free books, as we covered here.  Project Gutenberg includes more than 30,000 free eBooks, so choice is not so limited (although you can't get hot new titles).

What's really far out is that Stallman proposes some solutions to what he perceives as shortcomings in the eBook market, such as distributing tax funds to authors in accordance with their popularity. Popularity should drive who gets the most funds? That doesn't sound like the battlecry of someone who fights for the rights of the little guy.

In his diatribe against smartphones, Stallman told Network World:

"I don't have a cell phone. I won't carry a cell phone. It's Stalin's dream. Cell phones are tools of Big Brother. I'm not going to carry a tracking device that records where I go all the time, and I'm not going to carry a surveillance device that can be turned on to eavesdrop."

Stallman needs to try reading a few eBooks on a cell phone, or he is in danger of losing touch with where technology is headed. There is a grain of truth in his stance toward more openness on the eBook front, but there are meaningful eBook projects going on that fully embrace openness. We don't need to throw the baby out with the bathwater.



Coby Randquist uses OStatic to support Open Source, ask and answer questions and stay informed. What about you?



2 Comments
 

He's right about cell phones. It's the ultimate tracking device. In some countries mobile operators are required to keep records of cell phone location, call duration and numbers dialed.


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"What's really far out is that Stallman proposes some solutions to what he perceives as shortcomings in the eBook market, such as distributing tax funds to authors in accordance with their popularity. Popularity should drive who gets the most funds? That doesn't sound like the battlecry of someone who fights for the rights of the little guy."


Stallman's proposal for distributing tax based on the popularity of a work seems to get the media's opinion mills rolling every time. In case you hadn't noticed, Stallman has already proposed such a scheme for non-functional creative works (ie. art), function creative works, and even software. FFS it's mentioned multiple times in the GNU Manifesto ( http://www.gnu.org/gnu/manifesto.html ). Why is this "going too far" for ebooks, but not for software?


The point is that entrenched interests always complain about their "right" to earn money off things (ebooks, software, ice, etc.), but there are many ways to make money that don't involve Big Brother living in each and every gadget. Tax is an obvious example, so it's worth saying, even though it will probably never need to happen. Free Software developers, like myself, get paid for our work without the need for a software tax, and so will ebook authors, because we perform a service that others find useful enough to pay for.


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