December 28, 2009 | By Fred von Lohmann

Doctorow, How to Destroy the Book

Cory Doctorow, my former EFF colleague, now novelist and all-around-inspiration, gave a stirring speech entitled "How to Destroy the Book" in November at a Canadian conference dedicated to literacy. Fittingly, it was spontaneously transcribed and posted online at The The whole thing is terrific, but the first portion, an elegy to books and what they mean to us, is stirring and highly recommended to anyone who loves books:

When I buy an audiobook on CD, it’s mine. The license agreement, such as it is, is “don’t violate copyright law,” and I can rip that CD to mp3, I can load it to my iPod or any number of devises—it’s mine; I can give it away, I can sell it; it’s mine. But when you buy an audiobook through Audible, which now controls 90 per cent of the [downloadable] audiobook market, you get a license agreement, not a property interest. The things that you can do with it are limited by DRM; the players you can play it on are limited by the license agreements with Audible. Audible doesn’t do this because the publishers ask them to. Audible and iTunes, because Audible is the sole supplier to iTunes, do this because it’s in their own interest....

Anyone who claims that readers can’t and won’t and shouldn’t own their books are bent on the destruction of the book, the destruction of publishing, and the destruction of authorship itself. We must stop them from being allowed to do it. The library of tomorrow should be better than the library of today. The ability to loan our books to more than one person at once is a feature, not a bug. We all know this. It’s time we stop pretending that the pirates of copyright are right. These people were readers before they were publishers before they were writers before they worked in the legal department before they were agents before they were salespeople and marketers. We are the people of the book, and we need to start acting like it.

As it happens, the battle over whether you "own" digital goods (like e-books, CDs, and software) or merely "license" them will be a hot issue in court in 2010, with EFF deeply involved in the fight.

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