It’s Chilly Out There

SOPA and PIPA have been all over the news lately, and for good reason. Numerous commentaries and protest actions finally made it clear to Congress that these bills were poorly written with overly broad powers destined to have a chilling effect on otherwise legal activities.

In more recent news, Apple released its new iBooks Author product, heralded (by Apple) as a new world of textbook publishing. It looks like a typically nice Apple product, with an easy user interface and functionality. It ties in with the expanding ebook market as well as the very strong iPad market.

But as some have pointed out, there are worrisome sections in the EULA.  One section says that if you create a work on iBooks and want to charge a fee for access, you have to have a separate contract with Apple, and that work may only be sold and distributed via the iBookstore. Seems a little greedy, but Apple wants to control its own publishing environment and isn’t in the business of free/open source distribution models, so I can let that pass despite my dislike for DRM.

I have a big problem with one small sentence in the agreement: “Apple may determine for any reason and in its sole discretion not to select your Work for distribution.”

So, your work could theoretically never be published if Apple doesn’t like it.

And, of course, “Apple will not be responsible for any costs, expenses, damages, losses (including without limitation lost business opportunities or lost profits) or other liabilities you may incur as a result of your use of this Apple Software, including without limitation the fact that your Work may not be selected for distribution by Apple.”

You create something, Apple decides (based on what, I’m not sure) that it doesn’t want to distribute your work, and POOF, all your time and product go down the proverbial drain. Unlike a traditional publishing process, you can’t go to a different publisher/distributor, or even self-publish it. It’s locked away forever.

Some point out that iBooks Author files can be exported as .txt or .pdf files, which would then be free for distribution elsewhere. I am unsure that the EULA defines “Work” clearly enough to confirm that, especially as a PDF would still include all the “proprietary” layout. Apple’s own description of the functionality states “Drag and drop a Pages or Microsoft Word document to the Book navigator to add it as a new section.” This implies to me that one could create a work externally to the software, import it, and that output would be subject to the EULA, but the original Word or other file would still be yours to do with as you see fit.

This lack of clarity, plus the fact that, evidently, the user doesn’t need to consciously accept such an agreement before using the software yet using the software itself binds you to the EULA, makes me mighty suspicious. Apple advertises this product as using “the industry-leading ePub digital book file type,” but what good is it to trumpet that functionality when you won’t allow cross-platform publishing anyway?

Generally, I like and use Apple products and platforms. But this seems a new low in their attempt to control users and products.

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