Tim O'ReillySo is O’Reilly really comfortable with people being able to read so much for free? How about those books with short sections that slip past the cut-off filters–and end up entirely readable through Google Book Search? I still don’t know what’s on the mind of publisher Tim O’Reilly, shown here, but if you go by email from my friend Andy Oram, this issue could be far from settled. Andy, a veteran O’Reilly editor, emphasizes that he is just “speculating.” But he did give me permission to quote him by name:

Thanks for pointing me to this. An editor here also caught it pretty early. I think the comments added to the end by readers are very good and lay out the issues.

I don’t know the details of thie Google feature, and I assumed that when you do a search you see only a couple lines before and after your search term. The poster found he could read a full two pages. If we can have control over the granularity of the material displayed, we should definitely reduce the amount displayed per search.

The issue raises the interesting question once again of the relation between technology and fair use. Here, we might be able to make a positive change. A lot of fair-use advocates, as you know, decry the DRM policies of large content vendors because DRM effectively overrides fair use. But here, perhaps we could say, “OK, you can read two pages of DNS & BIND, but only five lines of Google Hacks.” That would match technology to what we consider fair use (although it still puts us in control).

As the [TeleBlog] commenters said, the trick is not a new one, and it merely trades off convenience for money.

In a second note, Andy writes:

…It’s fine to quote me–in fact, you can put my name in. So long as readers see that I’m speculating, not stating O’Reilly policy or suggesting a policy.

Also, it would be interesting to point out the parallel between the kind of granular control I suggest (5 lines, etc.) and the control imposed by DRM.

Would I rather that that publishers not worry about piracy, and that books be completely free of controls? You bet! In fact, I see today’s DRM for the most part as a customer repellant, not an attractive feature, and I’m confident Andy agrees. But if Net folks en masse do grow acustomed to ripping off even community-minded publishers in a major way, then our side will lose to the hardcore copyright zealots and protection maniacs. Perhaps this is why so far Slashdot apparently hasn’t picked up what should be a natural item.

If O’Reilly hadn’t given so much back to the Net through its constant nuturing of new technologies, I might very well feel otherwise. But for now you’ll have to go elsewhere to get the how-to.


  1. There is an undercurrent to this post that bugs me. It seems to reduce to “it’s okay to rip off the big guys, but not okay to rip off the good citizens”. Isn’t it wrong to rip off anybody? Is it acceptable to steal from jerks but not from heroes? Who makes that distinction?

    I’m sure at some point Tim himself will weight in on the issue on his blog, but that may take some time. He doesn’t give the appearance of making rash, ill-considered statements in public.

  2. Thanks for your thoughts, Richard. But please note there is a difference between publishing the how-to info and actually telling people, “It’s okay to steal.” Some might even view publication of the information as a constructive way to encourage publishers to plug up security holes. In this case I don’t find the how-to to be very constructive, since the supposed hack isn’t that imaginative anyway. At any rate, as shown by my refusal to point to links for ripping off Harry Potter, I don’t believe in piracy against the big guys, either. – David

  3. There is an important distinction to make between what Mr. Oram suggests as editorial control over Google Book Search results and DRM. The former is “before purchase”, and the latter is “after purchase.” Mr. Oram suggests that GBS needs to be limited, lest the prospective buyer leaves the store with the book without purchase. I agree. While buyers can go to a bookstore and read large sections of the book and even take notes, the digital medium requires slight alterations to such use and abuse. This is merely an effect of the ease with which digital goods can be traded.

    However, akin to physical goods, Digital Restrictions Management needs to lessen, because of that important distinction: the checkout. Now, it remains just as simple for me to propagate a digital book. But I suggest that DRM is not the answer. Digital Watermarks ought to be. Imagine linking digital purchases to a credit card. Could it not be as simple as adding a credit card number to every digital file and running the file through a hash function? The numbers can be embedded within the file for purchaser safety; the hash function result is the watermark. Every purchase carries the equivalent of a serial number. In other words, each digital good becomes unique and traceable. The matter of enforcement becomes similar to guns: some original buyer is linked to that gun.

    How does this help? If a buyer can be linked to each digital copy, that means that the source of illegal trading can be identified. At this point, it becomes a Stephen King nightmare should some organization like the RIAA decide to charge for each user with a copy – to that credit card they have on file. Perhaps such a scenario should spur computer users to treat digital goods and computer cracking as a serious matter, akin to having a physical goods in a house and that house subject to break-ins.

  4. david said:
    > Perhaps this is why so far Slashdot apparently
    > hasn’t picked up what should be a natural item.

    no, slashdot just recognizes this is a tired old topic.

    and 4/5 of the commenters on the original blog
    pointed that fact out to the blogger, who admitted
    in the original post he just wanted to “get digged”.
    this is what the blogosphere has come to nowadays
    — outlandish claims as a way to pump up your links.

    yet teleread continues to treat this topic like it’s some
    “revelation” of an unknown “hole” in google’s system.

    your sensationalist rendering of this topic is silly,
    the kind of thing the clueless mass-media does…

    this _certainly_ isn’t “stealing”, not any more than
    browsing paper-books in a bookstore is “stealing”,
    even if you read all the information that you need
    and end up walking out of the store without buying.
    and to even discuss it in those terms is irresponsible.

    what google offers publishers is the ability to say
    “you can’t browse this page, or this one either”.
    try doing that with a paper-book in a bookstore!

    david, you offer a good service here, in the sense
    that you cover the e-book scene very thoroughly,
    making it convenient for people to stay informed
    without doing all that research ourselves. however,
    your inability to accurately judge the importance
    and relevance of the news items you present is
    now becoming a seriously negative consideration.
    perhaps you’ve been doing this too long, and have
    lost all of your sense of perspective, i don’t know…

    your constant hyping of openreader is one thing.
    as irritating as that might be, we have to expect
    some people will pitch their projects unceasingly.

    but your general uncritical acceptance of _vapor_
    is quite another thing. and now this sensationalism
    over non-news is starting to push you over the top.

    perhaps the daily grind has gotten to you, and you
    could use a short break?


  5. oh, one other note, about o’reilly in particular.

    since tim is a consultant to google on this,
    i would think it would be an achilles’ heel
    if o’reilly were to ratchet up its restrictions.

    the opposition would say, “look at that!
    even google supporters had to back off!”

    but i’m guess that tim has known all along
    just exactly what he’s doing in this regard,
    even if some people on his staff do not…


  6. “Could it not be as simple as adding a credit card number to every digital file and running the file through a hash function?”

    Palm’s eReader does something like this, encrypting each ebook file and using the credit card number you purchased the book with as the key. Works nicely since you don’t have to activate devices (in the manner of MS and Adobe), and you can move the file around to any device capable of running eReader. I also think in seriously unlikely that people will share their credit card numbers with even their closest friends…

  7. Bowerbird wrote: however, your inability to accurately judge the importance and relevance of the news items you present is now becoming a seriously negative consideration. perhaps you’ve been doing this too long, and have lost all of your sense of perspective, i don’t know …

    Bowerbird forgot to add “however, in my opinion, your inability to accurately judge …”

    Adding the in my opinion makes it more accurate, in my opinion. <laugh/>

    Overall I find David’s reporting of ebook news events to be pretty spot on. He will occasionally deem something to be very important that ends up not being really that important in the cosmic scheme of things — and vice-versa. But his misjudging of importance is infrequent, and no worse than most others who report news items with the frequency and timeliness that David does. The proof is in the pudding (where did I hear that before???) and his blog is very popular precisely because it has stood the test of time.

    Bowerbird’s painting of David with some sort of “he’s lost it completely” brush is not supported by my observations. In my opinion, of course.

  8. A word for latecomers: Bowerbird is the author of an e-book standard that he sees as a rival to OpenReader, of which Jon and I are the main ringleaders. For many months, he has depicted our standard as vaporware. Now, alas, a real company is adopting the standard and even has a shipping date for an OR-compatible product. That in turn has produce a steep increase in poor Bowerbird’s rant count against this blog, OpenReader, you name it. Methinks he’s “losing it completely.”

    No, I’m not perfect, nor is the TeleBlog, and I encourage feedback of all kinds to help us get at the truth. As useful as even malicious comments can be in certain ways, however, I’ve spent too much time replying to The Bird.

    And now, back to putting out the TeleBlog and providing more for Bowerbird to squawk about–a Good Thing, given his frequent excellence as a contrary indicator. Me, I’ll worry if he agrees too much with the TeleBlog’s news judgment.

    Meanwhile happy holidays to all, The Bird included.


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