SerfsProkudin-Gorskii-08Here is a question for you: ‘Who really owns my Kindle?’ I bought it. I paid for it. It’s mine, right? Maybe not. The murky post-digital copyright waters continue to muddy in this regard. I own my Kindle, sure. But can Amazon prevent me from loading competitor’s books on it? Can they prevent me from loading my own apps, and using them to do what I please? If I use my Kindle tablet to help me write a book, can Amazon claim any ownership of it? These are not inconsequential questions, if we really want to be full-fledged owners rather than mere serfs.

Here are two case studies which came my way last week on copyright issues. What do you think they tell us?

1) ‘Error 53’ on Apple Phones

Apple is allegedly bricking the phones of customers who have them repaired by non-Apple dealers. Many of these phones are reportedly working just fine, completely without incident following these ‘unauthorized’ repairs—and then the customer updates the iOS, it runs sone sort of security check, and if it detects a non-Apple part in there, bricks the phone without further explanation. This article from The Guardian explains that many customers were not trying to do anything sinister here. One guy they quoted was a photographer covering the refugee crisis in the Balkans when his phone broke. There was no ‘authorized’ store for him to take it to!

Apple can say whatever they want to about this being for our ‘security.’ It’s a fishy story. Is it such a stretch to think that, unchecked, this can go even further? What if Apple scans my iPad and finds ePub books I didn’t buy from them? Or music I did not get from the Apple store? Where does their ‘authority’ over their devices end once a customer leaves the store with a physical item they bought and paid for?

2) Copyright and Tattoo Ownership

A video game company is being sued by a tattoo company who is claiming ownership of the designs imprinted on the bodies of several sports figures. They are claiming that the tattoos are works of art in a fixed medium, and that they own the rights to these the same as a painter would own a painting, and should be paid a royalty if the athletes who sport these tattoos are featured in the game.

I can’t even begin to untangle that one! LeBron James, one of the mentioned athletes, has a tattoo of his child. Does the artist who painted it own the tattoo? Does LeBron James, because it is on his body? Or how about the child whose likeness is featured—can he refuse to allow his father to show his image in the media without consent?

I don’t think content creators should be taken advantage of, but I think that at some point an element of common sense has to kick in. This notion that every single instance of our lives has to be monetized is simply out of hand. I think the athletes have a leg to stand on here with calling the tattoo art a ‘work for hire’ and asserting their rights over it. But as the article points out, these cases often settle because the little guy can’t afford to fight them, so there is no clear case law.

Now that everyone can write and publish with one click, we all need to be aware of these issues. My next e-book project is going to be a technology guide for teachers. Can I mention app names? Can I photograph devices I own? Can I do a screenshot from within an app I bought and paid for? The notion of ownership can be a tricky one. I can’t help but feel nervous when I read stories like these ones.

Image credit: Here. Yes, those most likely are descendants of actual serfs in the color photo.

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"I’m a journalist, a teacher and an e-book fiend. I work as a French teacher at a K-3 private school. I use drama, music, puppets, props and all manner of tech in my job, and I love it. I enjoy moving between all the classes and having a relationship with each child in the school. Kids are hilarious, and I enjoy watching them grow and learn. My current device of choice for reading is my Amazon Kindle Touch, but I have owned or used devices by Sony, Kobo, Aluratek and others. I also read on my tablet devices using the Kindle app, and I enjoy synching between them, so that I’m always up to date no matter where I am or what I have with me."


  1. But starbird2005, that doesn’t address the question of ownership of the kindle.
    Actually, I think it’s pretty clear that you own the device, but access to the books is a service that could be dropped or have its terms of service modified in strange and arbitrary ways.
    But that idea of owning a device that is only useful when tied to a service is not new. I have a Tivo and, before that, had a ReplayTV. The latter became little more than a brick when the service was discontinued, and I have to accept that the same could happen if Tivo were to close shop (or if they simply started charging more than I was willing to pay). My cable TV provider is quite willing to sell me pieces of equipment that would be useless if I ever discontinued my contract with them. Decades ago, the telephone company offered the same kind of purchases.
    Outside of the realm of technology, anyone who has purchased a condo knows that they “own” all or part of the building but not the land that its on and will be subject to association rules that may change in unpleasant ways and fees for association services that may rise at frequent intervals.

  2. I doubt Amazon is going to sue you if you sideload someone else’s books onto it or even (if it be possible) install an epub reader. Amazon wants to sell their Kindle devices, so they can sell the media that runs on them. They’d lose market share if they sued customers, although that doesn’t mean they won’t try to inject a hassle factor into customizing a device you own.

    With vehicles, it’s a different game. Vehicles are now controlled as much by software as hardware and the business of fixing them is lucrative. Both GM and John Deere are attempting to use copyright law and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to prevent outsiders from fixing, modifying or providing third-party parts for that vehicle. Google “deere tractor dcma” to get links to stories about that.

    Analogies can be applied to both sides of this debate. The one that I think is most apt was in the 1970s when the Supreme Court nixed IBM’s efforts to prevent anyone but themselves from supply add-ons to their mainframe computers. True, there was no DCMA back then, but maybe the principles behind IBMs loss still apply.

    This sort of fuss makes me glad I drive a reliable 1981 Toyota, which doesn’t have anything remotely like a computer. When I’m in cars that have gone totally digital, I ask myself what benefit the owners derive from that high-tech. I draw a blank. There’s almost nothing their cars do that mine won’t do, except perhaps turn off their headlights if they forget. They merely complicate their owner’s life and result in very large bills if some computer chip goes bad.

    Were I a car mechanic, I’d consider starting a business that restored older cars not as show cars but as reliable, hassle-free transportation.


    Joanna, for the copyright issue you mentioned, I wouldn’t worry. Credit the apps and companies you write about and leave it at that. Giants sue giants over petty issues (i.e. Samsung v. Apple), because a win might mean millions. Someone’s lawyers couldn’t get enough from you to cover the cost of just their nasty cease and desist letter.

    And for those who get such a letter, my advice is to be nice, play innocent, and offer to cooperate while politely standing your ground. Lawyers tend to be at their nastiest when their case is weak. Sweet you versus a bullying and threatening them won’t look good if they’re forced to go to court. I used precisely that when I battled the Tolkien estate lawyers. Their initial lawyer was so ineffectively mean, I called him a ‘junkyard dog.’ When they went to court, they shuffled him out of sight as quickly as possible, but I brought him back to the judge’s view.

    And they were so clumsy, they created seven bogus claims of damages running $1 million each, and then totaled them up to $1 million. Yes, that mid-sized Manhattan law firm and its prestige law school graduates couldn’t add. Those numbers meant nothing and when I mentioned that to the opposing lawyer, he admitted as much.

    I studied the equivalent of two years of law school when I did graduate work in medical ethics, so I consider the games that lawyers play childish. They’re often like the taunts and pissing contests grade school boys have.

    That said, if you don’t know law, they’re designed to be terrifying. A good lawyer can ease your mind, but good lawyers don’t come cheap.

    There are groups fighting this copyright madness, groups like the Electronic Freedom Foundation. Here’s an example of their work that mentions ebooks.


  3. Going back to the introduction of the Kindle and ever since the Kindle User Guide has explained how to load someone else’s books onto it.

    Amazon Kindle User’s Guide © 2004 – 2012

    {all Kindles have a browser}

    “Some websites may have books or documents that you want to download and
    read on your Kindle.

    You will be asked to confirm if you want to download these items to your
    Kindle Home screen.”
    You can add content to your Kindle by connecting it to your computer via the
    supplied USB cable. When you first connect your Kindle to a computer’s USB
    port, it will appear as an external storage drive or volume on the
    computer’s desktop. You will see a directory or folder called “documents.”
    You can add Kindle-compatible files to this directory, and you can copy,
    move or delete the files that are already there.

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