Amazon Blocks Arch Linux Handbook from Kindle Store

arch_kindle_feat

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.

Freely Available

Dusty Phillips

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.

Amazon

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.

Dusty Phillips

Troubling Response

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.

Amazon

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.


Tom Nardi

Tom is a Network Engineer with focus on GNU/Linux and open source software. He is a frequent submitter to "2600", and maintains a personal site of his projects and areas of research at: www.digifail.com .

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  • daniel

    Reading the FDL License it does seem apropriate for amazon to be rejecting it.
    Section 2 of the FDL States:
    You may not use technical measures to obstruct or control the reading or further copying of the copies you make or distribute.

    Ie you cannot put it in a DRM Wrapper.

    If amazon were to allow this they would be violating the FDL.
    Amazon could change thair policies to allow authors to decide if they wrap their content in drm but they so far have not allowed this.

    IF you would like more information on this listen / read the columns by cory doctorow in publishers weekly. Cory doctorow publishes content under a cc license and has been negotiating with amazon to allow his books to be sold without drm.

    • http://www.digifail.com/ Tom Nardi

      This is true, but only if the DRM-encumbered version is the ONLY version available. As long as a DRM free version is freely available for those who wish to view it, there is no violation.

      The best way to think of it is as the documentation being source code, and the DRM ebook being a binary of that source. Just like DRM’d binaries of GPL code can be distributed via Android Market, Apple App Store, Steam, etc, so long as the source itself is available outside of the DRM’d market.

      Take a look at this exchange from the Debian legal mailing list:

      http://lists.debian.org/debian-legal/2005/06/msg00074.html

      The possessor of the copy (I.E. the purchaser of the book on Amazon) is in no way limited by the Kindle’s DRM, as they are free to download a DRM-free version and distribute it however they like.

  • Joel Hruska

    You really ought to examine the dialog from the content publishers before you go throwing rocks at Amazon over user rights. Both large publishers and indie outlets have been screaming that Amazon will destroy their products and encourage mass piracy to such an extent that sites like LendInk have been targeted, shut down, and *crowed* over by authors’ who think they’ve struck a blow for freedom.

    It’s disingenuous to suggest that Amazon is trying to block people from accessing work. In reality, they’re trying to deal with poorly informed groups who have no idea how modern technology works, but plenty of fear over losing their bread-and-butter.

  • Stephan

    Amazon made the right call on this one. Everyone should take at the one and only customer review for Dusty Phillips’ paperback version of that book: http://www.amazon.com/Arch-Linux-Handbook-2-0-Lightweight/dp/1453807683 and then if you don’t believe it, just click on ‘take a look inside’. Also note, that he lists himself as the author of that book in the Amazon index, when he’s clearly not. He should have just listed himself as an “editor” (just like he did on the actual cover, and just like these guys did for Richard Feynmans’ letters: http://www.amazon.com/Most-Good-Stuff-Memories-Richard/dp/088318870 )

  • Stephan

    Amazon made the right call on this one. Everyone should take at the one and only customer review for Dusty Phillips’ paperback version of that book: http://www.amazon.com/Arch-Linux-Handbook-2-0-Lightweight/dp/1453807683 and then if you don’t believe it, just click on ‘take a look inside’. Also note, that he lists himself as the author of that book in the Amazon index, when he’s clearly not. He should have just listed himself as an “editor” (just like he did on the actual cover, and just like these guys did for Richard Feynmans’ letters: http://www.amazon.com/Most-Good-Stuff-Memories-Richard/dp/0883188708/ )

  • Axehandle

    I’m perplexed by the initial approach, given (as Tom points out in the article, far more charitably than I would) the significant amount of repurposed mediocre ebook content in the Amazon store. Some of these are essentially autogenerated ebooks of search results. It is strange that the print editions of these are considered less useless than their electronic counterparts. All things considered, this isn’t a bad policy. Amazon has done a reasonable job of keeping their ebook arteries unclogged, and ebook repositories with fewer restrictions seem to creep towards becoming bloating holds for content farmers. I’d rather a few good books get excluded than open the floodgates for garbage.

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