Monday, 16 March 2009 12:18

Amazon Kindle looks to DMCA to block the use of a subsidiary's e-books

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Amazon is wielding the DMCA in an attempt to stifle software designed to allow the Kindle to display legitimately-acquired e-books. The way the company championed the sale of unprotected MP3 music files playable on any device might have led us to expect something better from it.

Kindle is Amazon's e-book reader. One of the features is the way books and other content are purchased and then transferred via the Sprint EV-DO cellular network to the device.

But what if you own a Kindle and want to use it to display Mobipocket format e-books you've acquired legitimately from other sources such as public libraries?

(Mobipocket allows an e-book to be read on any of a range of handheld devices as well as on Windows PCs.)

Software written by Igor Skochinsky provides a way of determining a Kindle's PID code from its serial number (kindlepid.py), the PID is quoted when downloading a book, and then a second piece of software adjusts the book file to suit the Kindle (kindlefix.py).

According to people who have used Skochinsky's software, it preserves the DRM associated with the e-books. For example, a book obtained from a public library on an three-week 'loan' is not viewable after that period has elapsed.
 
Nevertheless, Amazon has served a DMCA notice on MobileRead (a web site for e-book users) that linked to Skochinsky's software and provided instructions for its use.

The letter, apparently issued by lawyers acting for Amazon, asserts that the software "is primarily designed, produced, or marketed for the purpose of circumventing a technological measure that effectively controls access to, and/or protects a right of, Amazon.com and the copyright owners who distribute books and printed materials viewable on the Kindle 2."

While the DMCA does provide some protection for those incorrectly targeted by take-down notices, filing a counter-notice is not something to be taken lightly. This is especially true for non-US residents, who as part of the process must consent to the jurisdiction of a US court.

Is Amazon pulling an Apple? Please read on.


MobileRead's Alexander Turcic said "due to the vagueness of the DMCA law and our intention to remain in good relation with Amazon, to voluntarily follow their request and remove links and detailed instructions related to it."

It's not as if Amazon is treading completely new ground. Trying to stop people using content that wasn't purchased from Amazon on a Kindle is much the same as Apple talking about using the DMCA to stop people running software that wasn't purchased from the App Store on their iPhones.

There seems to be some question of whether the DMCA actually applies in this situation, but the Electronic Frontier Foundation - backed by Skype and Mozilla - has called on the US Copyright Office to rule that jailbreaking iPhones and other handsets is explicitly exempted from the DMCA.

If that gains further support, it would be logical to extend the idea to encompass steps needed to allow the use of any content (including software) on any device capable of using it providing any DRM controls are maintained.

After all, wasn't the DMCA supposed to benefit content providers, not the people that sell players?

Since Mobipocket is an Amazon company, the issue around kindlepid.py and kindlefix.py clearly isn't one of content rights - especially as there doesn't seem to be anything in the Mobipocket terms of trade about using the ebooks on any particular devices.

Amazon recently copped some flack from book publishers over the Kindle's text-to-speech capability. Even though the company maintained the feature was legal, it has modified its systems so rightsholders can enable or disable text-to-speech on a per-title basis.

And earlier this month, Amazon released a Kindle reader application for the iPod and iPhone that includes bookmark synchronisation between devices.


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Stephen Withers

Stephen Withers is one of Australia¹s most experienced IT journalists, having begun his career in the days of 8-bit 'microcomputers'. He covers the gamut from gadgets to enterprise systems. In previous lives he has been an academic, a systems programmer, an IT support manager, and an online services manager. Stephen holds an honours degree in Management Sciences and a PhD in Industrial and Business Studies.

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