Sunday, March 15, 2009

Re: Kindle, DMCA and MobileRead

Dear Jeff Bezos,

I am writing this public open letter to you because I am unsure that you are aware of how some of the decisions made by Amazon regarding the Kindle, effect the actual users of Kindle community. You have a legal department which has taken an action which is detrimental to a number of users. Maybe you have "people" taking care of things who report to other "people" and the information that gets to you has been filtered. Maybe you know everything that is going on but misjudged the results of those actions. Maybe you think the number of people who care about this issue is too small for you to be concerned with. My hope is that you *do* care and want to do what you can to make sure your customers (an potential customers’) needs are being met.

I am a 3 Kindle owner. One original Kindle (at the full $399 price) and two Kindle 2s. I have been a member of MobileRead since the week I ordered my Kindle 1. I have found it a community of people who want to help further availability of and access to ebooks, regardless of the device used to read those ebooks. We don't always agree on how to meet the goal but we are all very passionate about ebooks and ebook readers. I have also participated in the Kindle Customer Discussion Forums since early in my Kindle ownership but I consider MobileRead to be my Kindle home.

Like many Kindle owners, I have been happy to act as an unpaid salesperson for the Kindle. I’m a freelance person, and interact with new people on almost every project. Whenever I pull my Kindle out to read, I end up answering many questions and giving product demos. I have been very happy to do this until this past week.

In an effort to give back to the Kindle/MobileRead community, I helped to create the Visual Kindle Guide wiki. The purpose of the guide was to help users get the most out of their Kindles. Some of the subjects covered are/were:

  • How to add or correct the metadata on your ebooks (whether from Amazon or other sites including those that provide free public domain books.)

  • How to use the metadata information to organize your ebook collection (The lack of folders makes it difficult to arrange ebooks in a organized manner. The Kindle sort function is not robust enough to do the job.)

  • How to use your Kindle to download books from the public library.

I also created a “Kindle Myths and Partial Truths” wiki page to clear up a lot of misconceptions about the Kindle for potential buyers. Some topics covered are:

  • A thief who steals your Kindle can get your credit card and identity information and go crazy (that’s a myth)

  • You can’t use your Kindle if you live in an area without Whispernet (another myth)

  • Amazon charges ten cents to convert documents (that’s a partial truth because we aren’t charged for the conversion but for sending it to the Kindle via Whispernet – though no one seems to have been charged yet)

  • You must own a Kindle to buy Kindle books (used to be a truth until the Kindle for iPhone app came along)

  • Kindle owners are locked-in to purchasing content only from Amazon (I called this a myth but I may have to change it to a truth in light of recent events)

As you can see, I'm a big Kindle fan and spend quite a bit of free time helping other Kindle owners and potential Kindle owners learn about the device (for free).

On March 9, 2009, the legal department of Inc, sent a letter to Alexander Turcic, the owner of, accusing the community of distributing “illegal tools designed to circumvent copyright protections for Kindle 2 books.” Though I believe your legal department was wrong, Mr. Turcic elected to comply to keep the peace.

I am not an attorney just a regular person who is baffled by this move on MobileRead. The so-called “illegal tools designed to circumvent copyright protections for Kindle 2 books” are and These are python scripts which do not remove DRM and are used to make library books readable on the Kindle (as well as books purchased from other sites). If you had been able to read the Visual Kindle Guide pages, you would have noticed that we (I) stressed that the library ebook’s DRM would not be compromised (not removed) by using these scripts. gives the Kindle owner the PID of their Kindle device. BTW, KindlePID is not the only way to obtain that information. Once the Kindle’s PID is supplied to the library’s OverDrive servers, the books is DRMed with the Kindle owners PID - no sharing the book with other Kindles or ebook readers, no stripping the DRM, it is DRMed for one Kindle and one Kindle only for 14 to 21 days (depending on the library). KindleFIX just allows the library ebook and the Kindle to work together so that the book can be read. The ebook will still expire in the time allotted and become unreadable at the end of that time. If you haven’t finished the ebook, you have to check it out again. How is that circumventing “copyright protections for Kindle 2 books”? The library ebooks aren’t even Kindle 1 or 2 books. Does Amazon feel that library ebooks take away from Kindle book sales? Taking away access to library ebooks will actually cause Amazon to lose sales of the Kindle itself to ebook readers which can more easily access library ebooks (like the Sony 505/700, Cybook, BeBook and more on the way).

I know there is a python script that can take the Kindle’s PID and use it to remove the DRM from Kindle books (or .mobi books) so that they may be read on computers or other ebook readers. The Visual Kindle Guide never mentioned the name of that script or provided instructions on it’s use. In the time I have been at MobileRead I have never seen a direct link posted to that particular script. In fact, MobileRead does not allow links to it to be posted just as it doesn’t allow links to pirated books to be posted. The script has been discussed (it is an international forum and that which is illegal in the U.S. is not necessarily illegal in another country).

The KindlePID and KindleFIX scripts have been around almost as long as the Kindle itself and Amazon never had a problem with it until now. The instructions on their use has been available at many sites around the web for just as long.

The real issue is the Kindle for iPhone app (an app I have on my iPod Touch along with several other reading apps but I only read on my Kindle because it’s just better). It’s clear to me that Amazon did not foresee the hole the app created in its DRM scheme and is now overreacting and impacting the way some users (who may or may not own iPhones or iPod Touches) need or want to use their Kindles. Being able to use the Kindle for library books makes it more attractive to potential owners especially in these difficult economic times.

It appears that Amazon did not release a well designed Kindle for iPhone app and is making its Kindle customers the scapegoat instead of correcting the problems with the app that put your DRM at risk. Barring MobileRead members from posting about how to use KindlePID or KindleFIX or linking to the scripts will have next to no impact on people choose to remove DRM from books. It will effect Kindle owners who want to purchase books from other sites (even the Kindle store doesn’t have every ebook people want) or those wishing to patronize their local library.

As long as the KindlePID and KindleFIX have been available, Kindle sales have continued to grow (even with sales limited to the U.S.). From reports that I’ve read in the news, Kindle book sales are also growing quite well. That would seem to support the fact that the scripts have not hurt the Kindle or the Kindle store. Most people don’t want to steal ebooks. They are perfectly willing to pay the right price for the content they want. Those who are of a mind to steal, will do so no matter what Amazon or any ebook retailer does to prevent them. In fact, I believe, the sooner Amazon opens its Kindle book store to more types of ebook reading devices (good start with the iPhone app), the greater your ebook sales will be (everybody wins). The Kindle is a strong ebook reader and can stand on its own against those that are currently on the market. It won’t hurt Amazon or the Kindle to let everyone in, it can only help.

I invite you to read for yourself the thread titled “Amazon uses DMCA to restrict where you can buy e-books” on the MobileRead site. You’ll read posts that range from frustration, to anger,to, to disappointment and some support for you move. You'll also read some well thought out posts as to why your legal department made a mistake. If you continue to look around the site you’ll see people very excited about their new Kindles and some who are trying to decide if they should buy a Kindle others wrestling over the decision of keep their Kindles or return them in protest. I’d invite you to read the actual Visual Kindle Guide wiki pages so you can see for yourself what they contained but they’ve been deactivated (maybe they can be resurrected for you to view).

To end with a little “truth in advertising”, I do not use KindlePID or KindleFIX personally. I only used them enough to know what I was talking about. I buy my ebooks from the Kindle store (except for about 6 books) and I don’t check out ebooks from the library. I have not removed DRM from any Kindle books (not even just to know what I was talking about). Even though I don’t use the KindlePID or KindleFIX scripts for content on my own Kindle, I do care about people who have been using them or would like to use them losing access to the scripts. Just as I don’t have a need for the TTY feature of the Kindle 2, it bothers me that people who need or want it may not be able to use it.

So, Mr. Bezos, please come to MobileRead and talk to us. I believe we can give you enough information to help you reconsider your outlook on KindlePID and KindleFIX.

From a loyal Kindle user (and cheeleader) who would like to remain one.

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