Depressing news from the land of DRM today, as author and developer Dusty Phillips has announced via his blog that Amazon has blocked him from publishing the Arch Linux Handbook on the Kindle.
Dusty was surprised when people starting asking for the Arch Linux Handbook on the Kindle, as it was already available for free online. But as the process to convert the existing documentation to something suitable for the Kindle wasn’t difficult and he had some free time on his hands, he decided to publish a copy for those who wanted it available directly on the Kindle.
Unfortunately, Amazon didn’t make it easy for him.
Soon after submitting the Arch Linux Handbook to Amazon, he received an email from their submissions department:
During a review of your KDP submission(s), we found content that is freely available on the web. You can do an online search for the content inside your book(s) to discover which sites are offering the content for free. Copyright is important to us – we want to make sure that no author or other copyright holder has their work claimed and sold by anyone else.
This alone is a somewhat strange response, as there is no shortage of previously available content on the Kindle. Public domain books are a common sight on various ebook marketplaces, and authors often make their previously released works available for a small fee (such as publishing a blog in monthly digest form).
It’s stranger still when you consider that the physical copy of the book is actually being sold by Amazon currently, with Dusty listed as the author. A simple check within their own systems should have been enough to confirm that not only did Dusty have the rights to publish this documentation, but he had done so previously.
Still, Amazon is not wrong. The documentation is freely available online, as it should be. Dusty replies to this email with a brief explanation of the situation:
This content is indeed freely available on the web at https://wiki.archlinux.org/index.php/Beginners%27_Guide although I have done a certain amount of editing to get it into its current format.
However, this freely available content is published under the GNU Free Documentation License 1.3 or later. (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) which explicitly states:
“The purpose of this License is to make a manual, textbook, or other functional and useful document “free” in the sense of freedom: to assure everyone the effective freedom to copy and redistribute it, with or without modifying it, either commercially or noncommercially. Secondarily, this License preserves for the author and publisher a way to get credit for their work, while not being considered responsible for modifications made by others.
The response Dusty got back was, to put it mildly, not what he expected:
We’ve reviewed the information you provided and have decided to block these books from being sold in the Kindle Store. The books closely match content that is freely available on the web and we are not confident that you hold exclusive publishing rights. This type of content can create a poor customer experience, and is not accepted. As a result, we have blocked the books listed below from being sold in the Kindle Store.
Arch Linux Handbook 3.0 by Phillips, Dusty (EDITOR) (ID: 2884216)
Please be advised that you must hold exclusive publishing rights for books that closely match content that is freely available on the web. If your catalog continues to contain books that fail to comply with these conditions or do not meet our Content Guidelines, your account may be terminated.
This response is unnecessarily accusatory, and appears to insinuate that Amazon suspects Dusty of attempting to steal the work of others. Again, as Amazon has already published this same content under Dusty’s name in physical form, there appears to be a large disconnect between the physical and electronic divisions within Amazon.
Faced with such a response, Dusty simply points out that the Arch Linux Handbook is now available in DRM-free MOBI format from the Arch Linux site directly; Amazon be damned.
Digital Rights (Or Lack Thereof)
As consumers continue to abandon traditional (physical) forms of media distribution for digital, these types of issues are only going to become more common. The community is well aware of Amazon’s DRM practices on the Kindle, though usually they involve cheating the consumer out of rights they would have otherwise had if they purchased a physical book or DVD.
This may represent the first time Amazon has managed to swindle the consumer out of their content before it even entered the Kindle ecosystem, which is a very concerning achievement, even for them.