Publishing in the twilight of the printed word part III

by John MacBeath Watkins

If we all have e-books, what does that do to ownership, and to free speech?

You don't really own an e-book, any more than you own your software.  You can't sell it on when you're done with it, and as Amazon demonstrated quite recently, the book can be pulled back from your e-book reader.

I'm referring, of course, to the incident in July 2009, when Amazon discovered that it had sold a number of copies of the Kindle version of Orwell's 1984 that the publisher who owned the copyright hadn't given anyone the right to sell.  They responded by pulling all the pirated copies of 1984 off of peoples' Kindles, so that when their customers woke up and turned on their Kindle, they found that the book they had purchased was missing, and the money was back in their credit card account.

It would have to be 1984 that demonstrated the Orwellian potential of the e-book.  It reminds me a bit of the Bibles Henry VIII decreed would be chained to the pulpits of Anglican churches.  He'd been sentencing people to death for reading English-language Bibles a few years before, as mentioned in this post.

Unlike earlier chained libraries, which had books that were quite valuable because it took an educated man a year to copy out a book by hand, Hank8's chains were all about control.  These bibles were printed with moveable type, so they were not terribly expensive.  He just didn't want people reading the Bible on their own, because religion was important to the legitimacy of his reign, and he therefore wanted his priests interpreting religion.

What happens when the chain reaches your e-reader wherever you are?

Come to that, if we store our collections and our writing in the cloud (as I currently do with my emails and blog posts,) what privacy do we have from agents of repression?  After all, it appears the Chinese government attempted to hack the email accounts of dissidents.

Perhaps we will someday see the return of the samizdat, the papers that Russian dissidents passed around with their rebellious ideas.  Some credit George Soros with helping undermine communist regimes in Eastern Europe by setting up offices of his Open Society foundation which had copy machines, making it easier to produce many copies of a samizdat.

More on publishing in the twilight of the printed word: