When the gods dance...

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Cold Cynicism of the iBook EULA

Why Apple, Why Does it Have to Be Like This? The Cold Cynicism of the iBook EULA

It's hard to wrap my brain around the cold cynicism of Apple's releasing a new tool to democratize the publishing of eBooks today, only to include in the tool's terms and conditions a prohibition against selling those books anywhere but through Apple's own bookstore. There's just something so achingly awful about it.

Portland, Oregon iOS developer Dan Wineman calls it unprecidented audacity. Writer Ed Bott calls it "mind-bogglingly greedy and evil." I just find it very, very sad.

Here's section 2b of the End User License Agreement of the new iBook Author program.

B. Distribution of your Work. As a condition of this License and provided you are in compliance with its terms, your Work may be distributed as follows:

(i) if your Work is provided for free (at no charge), you may distribute the Work by any available means;
(ii) if your Work is provided for a fee (including as part of any subscription-based product or
service), you may only distribute the Work through Apple and such distribution is subject to the following limitations and conditions: (a) you will be required to enter into a separate written agreement with Apple (or an Apple affiliate or subsidiary) before any commercial distribution of your Work may take place; and (b) Apple may determine for any reason and in its sole discretion not to select your Work for distribution.

The tension between the creative potential enabled by this kind of software and the crushing authoritarianism of the conditions it's shipped with is remarkable. Professional cynic Paul Carr says that's just how Apple rolls; he says we'll complain and then we'll genuflect and then we'll like it.

The multimedia interactivity of a self-published multi-touch tablet-dwelling learning experience formerly known as a text book ought to be set free to do its work - the elevation of the human condition! The web is a read/write miracle, not a read/write with permission test of aesthetic and commercial purity. It's a new world where people often give freely of the value they create in the knowledge that the aggregate results will enrich everyone. Maybe that's Wikipedia more than it is Apple though.

Steve Jobs on podcasts, September 2010. "[People want] Hollywood movies and TV shows ... they don't want amateur hour."
Perhaps no great work will ever be created with this new authoring tool. Perhaps many will be created, they just won't travel very far. What a terrible thing to do to a book; to brand it forever constrained for sale by a single vendor only.

Is this what the world is to come to? To a clean, crisp, cold beauty of high-end consumer goods that promise to empower but only under the watchful eye of the world's most profitable corporation? Why does it have to be this way, Apple?

See also former RWW writer Audrey Watters at HackEducation: Apple and the Digital Textbook Counter-Revolution

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