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My latest Publishers Weekly column, “Can You Survive a Benevolent Dictatorship?” looks at the competitive risks of selling books, articles and other copyrighted works for iPad-like devices that use DRM to prevent your readers from switching to competing platforms.

Apple will tell you that it needs its DRM lock-in to preserve the iPad’s “elegance.” But if somewhere in the iPad’s system settings there was a button that said, “I am a grownup and would like to choose for myself which apps I run,” and clicking on that button would allow you to buy e-books from competing stores, where exactly is the reduction in elegance there?

Apple will also tell you that there’s competition for apps—that anyone can write an HTML5 app (the powerful, flexible next generation of the HTML language that Web pages are presently made from. That may be true, but not if developers want their app to access the iPad’s sensors that allow you to control it by moving it around and making noises, or to the payment system that allows apps to be bought and sold with a single click. It’s an enormous competitive setback if your customers have to laboriously tap their credit card details into the screen keyboard every time they buy one of your products. And here’s a fun experiment for the code writers among you: write an app and stick a “buy in one click with Google Checkout” button on the screen. Watch how long it takes for Apple to reject it. For bonus fun, send the rejection letter to the FTC’s competition bureau.

There’s an easy way to change this, of course. Just tell Apple it can’t license your copyrights—that is, your books—unless the company gives you the freedom to give your readers the freedom to take their products with them to any vendor’s system. You’d never put up with these lockdown shenanigans from a hardcopy retailer or distributor, and you shouldn’t take it from Apple, either, and that goes for Amazon and the Kindle, too.

Can You Survive a Benevolent Dictatorship?

2 Responses to “Protect your copyrights, boycott DRM-locked platforms”

  1. Gadget Man

    This reminds me of a situation I encountered on audible.com. I was regularly purchasing audiobooks from Terry Pratchett’s Disk World series, because I couldn’t find them other places I get audiobooks. Suddenly all the Terry Pratchett audiobooks were gone. Eventually they came back, but with a long extra message at the beginning of each one “Terry Pratchett has asked us to remind you of the terms of audible.com you agreed to when you signed up … ” or words to that effect. Every time I hear this obnoxious message which includes a prohibition on sharing an audiobook it makes me less likely to want to buy any more Terry Pratchett even though I enjoy his writing.

  2. Jeff Craig

    I tend to disagree with the use of the term “Benevolent Dictatorship” in this case. In the way of using Benevolent Dictator, in say, the Open Source world, the dictatorship serves to provide direction, but still does not restrict freedom. That’s the benevolent dictatorship I’m familiar with.

    For that reason, I can’t help but characterize what Apple is doing with the iPlatform to be nothing short of true dictatorship. No dictator believes their not doing the best for their people.

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