On Stealing Books…

It's all the fault of Sony – they've turned me into a lawbreaker.

While I was America (nice place, shame about the government – although you may as well say the same thing about the UK) I spotted a demo model of the Sony Reader (PRS505). I'd been wanting to see what 'E-Ink' looked like so I had a bit of a play around with it and thought it was rather nice.

As I am a nerd and a shameful first adopter I managed to wrangle one into my grubby little hands.

It's really rather clever – the screen is easy to read, it's light and thin and it doesn't feel like you are reading things off the screen. You load the books onto it via your desktop/laptop system (and the software isn't Mac compatible, but there are workarounds).

So it came time to load some books onto it. First stop was the Sony Reader Ebook Store. It is from there you can pay for and download e-books. I quite fancied the Neal Stephenson 'Baroque Cycle'. I own them in 'dead tree' edition, but have never managed to read the whole three because the books are physically huge.

And then I hit a snag.

You see, you need a credit card that is registered in America to buy things from the store. Being a simple traveller from the UK I don't have such a thing. So my money is no good for them.

**Insert clever joke about current £/$ exchange rate here**

I want to give them my money. I give Audible my money for audio-books, I give iTunes my money for music downloads. But the rules of international marketing and the dumbness of Sony means that I'm not allowed to read their books.

What to do, what to do?

Well, I could scan the books in to my computer, perform OCR on them and put them on myself – but have you see the length of them? I could transcribe them myself, but then I may as well be reading them.

So instead I hit the bit-torrent sites and downloaded them.

I now have slightly wonky formatted copies of the books that I already own, books that I would have paid money for again for the ability to read them on my sexy new reader.

So lots of people have missed out on a sale.

Back in the day I used to illegally download music – now I have the ease of use of iTunes or eMusic, one day hopefully Amazon in the UK will offer music downloads. I'm happy to pay for these downloads because (a) Its the right thing to do and I'm no longer a skint student (b) It's just easier.

When video rentals for iTunes arrives on these shores I'll be using that, or a competitors service.

I like paying for my media.

I've downloaded books from Project Gutenberg and from Archive.org (including my own book), but I want to give real authors real money for the privilege of being able to read their books.

But Sony says I can't.

The counter argument is that I have no 'right' to format shift works that I already own – move, for instance, bought CD music into the MP3 format. Yes, if you've done this then you have broken the law and the record companies can sue you into bankrupcy. Allowing this 'format shift' is one of the key recommendations made by the Gowers report (even though the government is being slow to bring it into law).

Ethically I don't think I'm doing anything wrong, if I'm allowed to resell books that I've bought (which I am) then why can't I reformat them into another readable format for my own personal use.

But by making me jump through these hoops I'm reduced to illegality.


With no work until Thursday, and no stories in my 'big black book of interesting ambulance stuff' I'm stuck writing about other things. Oh well, normal service will be resumed soon.

23 thoughts on “On Stealing Books…”

  1. Hey Tom,My first entry here – took me a bit to find the 'comment' thingy…

    I sent you an email with a solution – maybe – possibly.

    I love my reader by the way. Definitely running out of room for real books and such. Wasn't too bad until I discovered Terry Pratchett, then the book to room ratio rose dramatically.

  2. I have a PRS-500 of my own (based in London too), I do actually buy my books, but I cheat a bit, I purchase them from http://www.fictionwise.com as Secure Microsoft Reader format (.lit) and then remove the DRM (*cough*) with a program called ConvertLIT (often the first word is abbreviated), then use libprs500 to convert from .lit to Sony LRF format, the software is all free

  3. How come you can always end up writing a post on something I've been thinking and trying to say, yet do it so much better than I can?I'm annoyed that I can't watch the programme re-caps from US stations so I find myself resorting to less than legal means to do so, all because I either can't get the series over here or I have to wait so long before I see it, it's not worth it. I'd gladly pay iTunes US to do it.

    You're absolutely right, they're missing a trick, and extra money. The amount of people who would pay and download in the UK would be so small in comparison to the amount of people who would watch the show should they come to the UK that it's stupid they don't consider it. I believe the BBC are opening up their iPlayer to allow people to access content globally, so why won't the yanks do the same?

  4. When they make it illegal for me to have friends over to watch a tv show, the rationale will be complete. Such stupid, short sighted, greedy wrangling is it's own punishment. But they keep the author from being paid, and readers away from the books. Best to ban libraries right now, they let anyone read a book without paying the publisher for it.

  5. Genius – I'm using it now to convert some of my old *paid-for* .LIT books from fictionwise into LRF format. And it formats it's lovely as well.

  6. I had the same problem with Nintendo except I was trying to get a massive discount on the price of a DS by taking advantage of the pound to dollar exchange rate. Apparently you can only buy Nintendo products from their online shop if you live in either the USA or Canada. If you live in Europe, Africa or Asia you're stuffed and you're forced to buy the products in sterling from UK based sites or to actually go outside (perish the thought) and buy them in the shops at full RRP. In the end I bought one in dollars from the American based Amazon and had it sent to a friend in the States.

  7. You're smarter than that, Tom. Stop using the terminology invented by a bunch of scammers doing their damndest to monetize (interesting word…) a rip-off.You've heard of fair use. You're applying the idea above and beyond the call of duty for your own work. There's nothing you're doing that isn't more than covered by fair use. (Just one example: The whole idea that you're supposed to pay again for what you already bought is nothing but more scammers' nonsense.) So why are you playing on their (verbal) field?

    Excellent article on this recently in Ars Technica by Tim Lee.

  8. To be honest all these laws are beurocratic hell. I wouldn't mind stepping over that long arm of the law to get a CD, but I would prefer to pay. There needs to be some kind of International Convention on that kind of thing

  9. Apart from the provocative title, everything else I've written is using correct terminology.It is true – it *is* illegal to copy for personal use.

    While we have 'Fair use' in the UK it doesn't mean the same as it does in the rest of the world.

    This is what makes the Gowers report so important and, while the government has implemented the restrictive parts of the report, it's been a lot less speedy to get the opening up sections into law.

  10. They are good for me – because I travel around a lot. But if you only need to read one book at a time I'd stick to the old fashioned method.

  11. They're very good for reading 'sequentially', as with 'normal' books – less so for reference, however. I'd advise anyone with an interest to take a look at the http://www.mobileread.com/ site, where there's a fair amount of informed traffic.To get the best out of eInk readers, in this country at least, you do need to be a techically-aware reader, but if you do read a lot, they're certainly worth checking out.

  12. You bought the wrong reader. Anything that ties you to one supplier is to be avoided.The reader to get is the Bookeen Cybook. Get it through NAEB. The better spec and cheaper price ($350 ad opposed to 350 for a lesser spec) make it the better buy, in spite of minor import hassles.The Cybook has Mobipocket as its native mode, and will also read PDF, RTF and a few other formats.Mobipocket format books are available from Mobipocker and Fictionwise, to name only two out of many. Some titles are DRMed. most are not. Cybook will read both.For SF, go to Baen Webscriptions. All titles are DRM-free, and many are available from their Free Library.You can use UK credit/debit cards at all the above with no fuss.I've been detting ebooks for years to read on my PDA.I've just bought the Cybook, and I'm delighted with it.Phil the Badger

  13. I'm London-based and have one of these as well. I also happen to have a US credit card, so would be happy to purchase gift vouchers (which can be used from the UK) for you if would like. Just drop me an email if you would like to arrange this.

  14. I think you may be being a little harsh on Sony. Sony is not a book publisher, so they can only distribute books in this form subject to the agreements they have with the publishers themselves. And book publishers have a long history of treating the US and the UK separately when selling dead trees, so obviously they'd like to continue this practice with digital distribution, even though this makes no sense and is (as you point out) easily subverted.

  15. On the other hand sites like Fictionwise can sell DRM ebooks and not care which country the buyer is in, oh well, allegedly the Sony Reader will be released over here in a few months anyway

  16. You can get Terry Pratchett books in secure LIT format, I'm slowly replacing my paper collection with ebook editions

  17. I may have to look into that. I might (wish) be moving to the UK and I'm seriously dreading having to carry a few hundred pounds of books with me…Thanks for the info!

  18. Ebooks have saved me from having to give over my house to piles of dead tree 🙂 I've pretty much replaced everything I have, yay!My gripe is that several publishers and authors make a huge whining noise over the redistribution of their books in e-formats, shut down forums, bitch and complain… and yet won't make that work officially available in e-format anyway. Duh much? “Dear Whining Author; I am never going to buy your dead tree product. I would have bought – or found and proselytised – your ebook product. But now I'm not, because you're a twerp with limited understanding.”

    DRM is also completely evil. When will these folks realise – most people are happy to pay, but want to be able to use their paid-for goods as they please.

    Elsewise… I love the thought of dedicated ebook readers but they're just too big for a pocket – might as well carry a paperback. And e-Ink has a long way to go yet. But my faithful java phone has been running Mobipocket for a long time now 😉 You don't actually need the expensive gadget (although, ya know, shiny!)

  19. It's something I'm going to be touching on in the near future, if only because that damn annoying Doctorow fellow has written a rather good article about it himself.

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