My life may very well be in mortal peril. I live on the edge, apparently unaware or unconcerned about the danger that I carry with me at all times encased behind an e-ink screen.
At least, Richard Stallman may see it that way. The author of a treatise exposing the inherent dangers of digital publishing has set out to convince the world that e-books are life-threatening, or at the very least a true concern in terms of the individual rights of readers under copyright law. According to Stallman, downloadable books do not carry with them the same individual rights that print books do, namely, the right to first resale, full ownership, and the protection and anonymity that comes with purchasing a hard copy text.
It might be tempting to laugh off Stallman’s concerns as anti-government paranoia, but his credentials as a pioneer in free software development makes him something of an expert in the area. As a mastermind behind GNU, which led to the creation of the general public licensed Linux operating system, and an alumnus of MIT’s AI lab, Stallman is an original hacker and longtime technological rights’ advocate. If anyone is qualified to speak out on the potential and unnecessary dangers embedded within digital publishing, it very well may be him.
Stallman’s key concerns appear to center around the loss of individual freedoms that may arise as the popularity of e-readers grows, all happening while digital content consumers remain unaware. His fears might seem more founded if government regulation was forcing the demise of traditionally published books or if authors were somehow being denied the many choices that come with publishing, especially in a climate with so many options for self- and e-publishing. O’Reilly Media, for example, has advanced the access of digital content by refusing to allow current methods of DRM in its catalog.
While even Stallman agrees that many of the individual limitations that result from the current design for e-books could be alleviated with the removal of artificially placed encryptions that are embedded in as much as 95% of current e-books, his argument would carry more weight in a market that didn’t allow consumers and authors to enact so much control over their literary content.