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The grumpy editor's e-book reader

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By Jonathan Corbet
July 22, 2009
Part of the LWN Grumpy Editor series
Your editor recently "celebrated" yet another birthday; one asks "which birthday?" at the risk of making him grumpy indeed. During that celebration, a surprising present turned up, in the form of an Amazon Kindle book reader. That presents an opportunity to play with a new toy, something your editor is not known for turning down, even when the toy is as problematic as the Kindle. In the process, your editor turned up some free software which helps to make the device rather more useful.

The Kindle is a device which inspires mixed feelings. It is a nice piece of hardware, showing what can be done with electronic-ink displays attached to a Linux-based system. It is small, light, and able to store a long list of books. The display is nicely readable, even in strong outdoor light, though it is also somewhat slow to respond and changes pages with a distracting black flash. The built-in cellular modem makes the acquisition of books from almost anywhere easy; no computer is required. The keyboard is awful, but one does not normally expect to do a lot of typing on such a device.

What one does expect to do with it is to read. There is a great deal of written material on the net, much of it available under free (or, at least, "freely distributable") licenses. But your editor cannot be the only one who, despite being an avid reader, lacks enthusiasm for reading a novel from the computer screen after spending the working day staring at that same screen. Kindle-like devices offer a solution to this problem; they are portable and much easier on the eyes. They are still not as nice as a real book, but they are nice enough to make much of that online content more accessible. Electronic book readers are an interesting class of gadget, even for those of us who have no real interest in ditching words printed on dead trees.

Your editor's Kindle showed up just a couple of days after the widely-reported "memory hole" incident, in which Amazon deleted copies of two George Orwell books from the devices of customers who had "purchased" them. LWN has said little about this event for the simple reason that there is very little to add; the unbooking of 1984 must be shocking even to the most irony-challenged among us. But one could well add that Amazon has made it clear that running Linux does not necessarily make a device serve its owner. The Kindle is very much a closed, captive platform under the control of its vendor. As far as your editor can tell, nobody has yet claimed to have achieved root access on a Kindle 2 device.

Managing the device

[Kindle] One of your editor's first questions was, naturally: can the Kindle be loaded with books which do not come from Amazon? Many of us have materials in PDF format sitting around already. A lot of free software documentation is, for some strange reason, not available via the Amazon store. That is also true of the bulk of the public-domain and freely-licensed material which has been made available on the net. There are good reasons to put all of this stuff onto a reader where it will be available, someday, when the urge to read it strikes. There are a few other motivations as well: avoidance of payments, avoidance of DRM, privacy, protection against having material deleted by Big Bezos, etc.

The Kindle has a USB port, and it shows up as a normal USB mass storage device. So gaining access to the library from a Linux machine is a straightforward thing to do. Among other things, this access can be used to back up one's books, perhaps giving a degree of permanence to a book collection which, otherwise, appears to be subject to a discouraging degree of control from outside. It would also be nice to be able to place new files there; that, too, is possible, with one little problem: the Kindle 2 lacks a PDF reader.

Now, one could come up with no end of choice words for whoever thought that an electronic book without PDF capability made any sense whatsoever. But it's better to do something about it. Your editor spent some time searching for answers before stumbling across an interesting program named calibre. This GPLv3-licensed, Python-implemented, multi-platform program aims to solve the the PDF problem, and quite a bit more as well. It is, in fact, a general electronic book library manager with support for a number of reader devices.

Installing calibre was only mildly painful. It requires Python 2.6 and a fairly wide range of libraries; your editor's Fedora 11 machine (the time and courage to return to Rawhide have been lacking) does not have a calibre package, but all of the dependencies are available. The installation instructions are based on the idea that feeding text from a web site directly into a root shell is a good idea, but one can get around that. There is also the installation of a udev rule which sets the permissions for USB-connected Sony readers (for the Kindle, the program doesn't open the USB device directly).

Let it be said: calibre (version 0.5.14) needs a lot of work. The interface is strange and requires a certain amount of figuring out. If it can't communicate with the reader, there is no real information as to why (one hint: it expects that the device filesystem will be automatically mounted at plugin time, something your editor has disabled on his system). It will happily tell you that a given book is not available in the right format for the reader, but is short on information on how to get it into an [calibre] appropriate format. One needs to be prepared to spend some time just messing with it. These gripes notwithstanding, calibre has the makings of a nice tool.

The main screen is dominated by a list of books in the library; clicking on the "reader" icon at the top yields a list of books on the device instead. One could imagine a useful combined listing mode which showed all books, with a concise indication of where they are to be found, but calibre does not do that. There's a pretty - but relatively useless - "browse by cover" mode. As with the Kindle itself, the book list is a single, flat listing, with no provision for organizing the books into hierarchies. This can only get painful as the list of books grows. Yes, this is 2009, we do everything with tags now, and calibre supports tags. Your editor would still like directories. Call them "bookshelves" if that fits the theme better. It would also be really nice if calibre could treat a group of files as all being part of a single book. No such luck.

The "view" operation can be used to read a book on the Linux system. It opens an internal reader for a number of formats; this reader seems to fail, silently, fairly often. For PDF files, calibre just starts evince, which works just fine.

The "send to device" button is, naturally enough, the way to move a specific file (or set of files) to the reader. There doesn't appear to be a "just keep the two in sync" option; books all must be loaded onto the reader explicitly. It would sure be nice if "send to device" would just convert the file into an appropriate format if need be, but that doesn't happen; it throws up a dialog saying that the transfer isn't possible. In other words, the user must explicitly perform a format conversion on (say) a PDF file before it can be sent to the Kindle. "Convert E-books" does that, providing a nice set of options on how the conversion is to be done. It works, but it should work automatically.

The conversion of PDF files into the "MOBI" format understood by the Kindle works reasonably well, but the books suffer somewhat in the translation. Paragraph breaks tend to vanish, page headers and footers get mixed into the text, and so on. The formatting of code samples loses little details like indentation. All told, the result isn't quite what it should be; it seems like it should be possible to do better.

One nice feature built into calibre is the "fetch news" operation. The program can go to the web sites of a large number of publications, download the [news
fetcher] current edition of whatever news is published there, and convert it into a format suitable for loading into the reader. If you leave calibre running, it can perform regular downloads, keeping the library populated with current newspaper and library editions. Needless to say, this feature is appealing when compared with the payment-required newspaper offerings from Amazon. On the other hand, as a web publisher, your editor does have a certain affection for the "payment required" mode of operation.

Also worthy of note is Savory, a repackaging of the calibre format-conversion code which runs on the Kindle itself. This tool lurks on the device as a daemon; whenever it sees a new PDF file, it goes off and converts it to the MOBI format automatically. Getting Savory to work can be a bit tricky, but, once the right incantations have been made, it works as advertised. The process is quite slow (the Kindle is not known for the data-crunching power of its CPU) and the end results are, not surprisingly, about the same as those obtained by using calibre directly - with one difference. Savory's conversion process actually makes two copies, one of which is a series of PNG images reflecting the real appearance of the source PDF file. The images have their own problems (they are not amenable to searching, for example), but they do look nicer. In summary, Savory is a nice enhancement, but it's in no way the same as having the device be able to just display PDF files natively.

Source

The Kindle is based on GPL-licensed software. Since Amazon is distributing this software with the device, it is required by the GPL to either include the source with the device or include a written offer to provide the source. Your editor read through all of the fine print, including absolute restrictions on modifying the device and discouraging stuff like:

The Device Software will provide Amazon with data about your Device and its interaction with the Service (such as available memory, up-time, log files and signal strength) and information related to the content on your Device and your use of it (such as automatic bookmarking of the last page read and content deletions from the Device). Annotations, bookmarks, notes, highlights, or similar markings you make in your Device are backed up through the Service.

Big brother does, indeed, know what you are reading. But your editor could not find the written source offer. So, technically, it would appear that Amazon is in violation of the GPL. That said, Amazon has made the source available for each version of the operating software shipped with Kindle devices; one simply needs to know where to look for it.

That source distribution takes the form of a 140MB compressed tarball, which, in turn, contains 44 other compressed tarballs. Among other things, Amazon has tossed in the source for the 2.6.22.19 kernel, GCC, bootchart, powertop, and iptables. There is no separate patch to the kernel, but a quick diff shows significant changes, mostly in the form of the addition of support for the Freescale i.MX27 and i.MX31 processor architectures. The i.MX27 code is not currently upstream, even in the 2.6.31-rc kernels. Amazon has patched in drivers for a Freescale PATA controller, i2c controllers, the Kindle "five-way controller," the "Fiona" keyboard, a "magnetic sensor" device, a trackball device, a video output device, a "run time integrity checker" device, a number of electronic ink devices, and far more. There's also the yaffs2 filesystem and, bizarrely, a version of Andi Kleen's superseded unlocked_fasync patch. None of this code is upstream, and there appears to be little interest in getting it there.

Sadly, the Kindle is a closed device, so there is little point in trying to build and boot this code. That integrity checker device seems likely to get in the way. The unhackable nature of the device does not come as a surprise; that is how things tend to be done these days. But one can still wish that things were different. A user-modifiable Kindle would not just be more resistant to Orwellian monitoring and control; it could also be extended in ways that Amazon never dreamed of. Maybe it could even get a PDF reader. What a fun device that could be.


(Log in to post comments)

The grumpy editor's e-book reader

Posted Jul 22, 2009 16:19 UTC (Wed) by pheldens (guest, #19366) [Link]

Got me a Bebook (Hanlin v4) recently , at 300 euro still insanely expensive for an electronic text reader, but it has a nice sober design, epaper reads quite nice, runs on a hanlin linux rom, and also on the open source ebook distro openinkpot.

http://openinkpot.org/wiki/Hardware

The grumpy editor's e-book reader

Posted Jul 22, 2009 16:26 UTC (Wed) by pheldens (guest, #19366) [Link]

oops, a v3

Openinkpot

Posted Jul 22, 2009 17:45 UTC (Wed) by corbet (editor, #1) [Link]

Now why didn't I know about Openinkpot? I do believe you just gave me another topic I'm going to have to investigate and write about...

Openinkpot

Posted Jul 22, 2009 19:32 UTC (Wed) by dottedmag (subscriber, #18590) [Link]

As OpenInkpot leader I'll be glad to answer any questions about it, better on #openinkpot IRC channel.

Openinkpot

Posted Jul 24, 2009 13:35 UTC (Fri) by louie (subscriber, #3285) [Link]

Any plans for a new release any time soon? I admit to a bias, but projects
that haven't had a release in four months make me nervous :) (Good to see
some activity in the git tree, though.)

Openinkpot

Posted Jul 24, 2009 19:59 UTC (Fri) by dottedmag (subscriber, #18590) [Link]

Well, right. The whole team was hired to port & further develop OpenInkpot for a new device (resulting firmware will be free software, of course), so everyone is quite busy with the upcoming release.

The only reason of not releasing snapshots for V3 is remaining minor glitches which need to be corrected (e.g. several menus don't have key available and can't be opened hence), so I hope to spare some time to fix them.

The grumpy editor's e-book reader

Posted Jul 22, 2009 16:29 UTC (Wed) by Hanno (guest, #41730) [Link]

Is there any linux-based device with an e-ink display that allows users to install binaries?

The grumpy editor's e-book reader

Posted Jul 22, 2009 16:51 UTC (Wed) by grahame (subscriber, #5823) [Link]

Both the Sony Reader and the Sony Librie run Montevista Linux, and people
have 'hacked' both to allow you to run programs off the memory card. I
managed to get cairo (plus other bits and bobs) going on my Librie, writing
into the framebuffer and then using the magic ioctl to cause the e-ink screen
to update.

In the end I didn't produce anything amazingly useful, as the builtin book
reading software was good enough. I did get basic PDF support going for the
Librie using Poppler.

PDF is actually a really terrible ebook format, EPUB is much more sensible. PDF
is largely pages of a fixed size, doesn't reflow well (on most documents, not
at all), and it's a pain to scale fonts. EPUB is just HTML + Images (and other
files) in a JAR style zip file.

The grumpy editor's e-book reader

Posted Jul 22, 2009 18:05 UTC (Wed) by Baylink (guest, #755) [Link]

PDF is indeed a terrible e-book format... except for all the *manuals* already available in it.

My Nokia n800 is an even worse reader for those PDFs, but when you really *have* to read them, it will do... and it fits in a belt holster.

The grumpy editor's e-book reader

Posted Jul 22, 2009 17:41 UTC (Wed) by dlang (subscriber, #313) [Link]

people have also hacked the kindle, the savory install that was mentioned is one of the available hacks. there is also one to tinker with the screensaver and one (for the kindle DX) to modify the browser

these install the hack binaries on the kindle, so the mechanism is known. one of the people working on this has said that he has been able to get a root shell on the device.

unfortunantly the people working on this are afraid that if they make their work too public, people will try to hack the kindle to use it as a computer internet connection, and in the process cost amazon enough money that amazon will cancel the free cell-based Internet access that the devices currently enjoy.

I suspect that this is not really a problem for a couple of reasons.

1. Internet access goes through a proxy at amazon, which limits (to some extent) what you can get to. However, I don't know if this is mandatory routing based on IP or just configured in the kindle browser

2. I suspect that the contract with sprint for the 'wispernet' service only allows the kindles to use otherwise idle bandwidth (in other words, it really doesn't cost sprint anything)

The grumpy editor's e-book reader

Posted Jul 22, 2009 22:40 UTC (Wed) by ebs (subscriber, #30411) [Link]

It's blocked on IP level at Sprint, e.g. routing is set to only allow you to access Amazon servers

The grumpy editor's e-book reader

Posted Jul 22, 2009 22:44 UTC (Wed) by dlang (subscriber, #313) [Link]

that makes a lot of sense, with that they have the option of having two-tier service.

the standard (limited) wispernet for free

unrestricted access for a fee

I know that for a reasonable fee (something less thhan I pay for an unlimited sprint card for my much faster laptop), I would be willing to pay for such a service, I would start off by loading a mail client on it (alpine in my case) for easy, remote access to my imap folders.

The grumpy editor's e-book reader

Posted Jul 22, 2009 20:25 UTC (Wed) by cjb (guest, #40354) [Link]

> Is there any linux-based device with an e-ink display that allows users to install binaries?

I just ordered an iLiad Book Edition, which is exactly this. Looks like there's a healthy amount of free software available to install, including a full offline snapshot of English Wikipedia:

http://wiki.mobileread.com/wiki/Iliad_Software

The grumpy editor's e-book reader

Posted Jul 23, 2009 19:06 UTC (Thu) by dwayne (subscriber, #17004) [Link]

I own an iLiad for a year now and like it very much. It reads pdf out-of-the-box and after installing FBReader it even reads epub. If you buy the version with wlan you can just transfer data via a cifs-share to and from the device. Problem with the iLiad is the price and since there is now a next generation device available from iRex they pretty much abandoned the old devices. After all they released the sourcecode for the devicesoftware, so I expect some great things for those who can wait. Nonetheless I got interested in the txtr reader which is about to be released soon.

The grumpy editor's e-book reader

Posted Jul 23, 2009 19:13 UTC (Thu) by dwayne (subscriber, #17004) [Link]

Just to clearify: Of course you can transfer data via a cifs-share to and from the device via the ethernet-port too.
But what really makes this thing shine is the wireless transfer.

The grumpy editor's e-book reader

Posted Jul 22, 2009 20:26 UTC (Wed) by dottedmag (subscriber, #18590) [Link]

Hanlin v3 (sold under lot of different names: http://openinkpot.org/wiki/Hardware) and Hanvon N516 are supported by OpenInkpot, which is free software.

The grumpy editor's e-book reader

Posted Jul 22, 2009 20:33 UTC (Wed) by Hanno (guest, #41730) [Link]

Thanks everybody. I wrote my comment while pheldens was already commenting about OpenInkpot in another thread here.

This is great news to me. It's wonderful to know that there is a free firmware for e-ink readers. The whole e-book thing just became even more interesting.

The grumpy editor's e-book reader

Posted Jul 22, 2009 21:49 UTC (Wed) by JoeF (subscriber, #4486) [Link]

Ditto here.
I had been thinking about getting the Kindle, but with the recent killswitch episode, I don't want to go that way anymore.
Great to learn that there are alternatives.

The grumpy editor's e-book reader

Posted Jul 23, 2009 6:51 UTC (Thu) by dvandyk (subscriber, #49727) [Link]

> Is there any linux-based device with an e-ink display that allows users to install binaries?

There will be this Fall. Have a look at the Txtr Reader (and the acompanying "Web 2.0" portal for eBook sharing). The reader will run under Linux and have an SDK for interested parties to add new functions to it:

http://reader.txtr.com/

The grumpy editor's e-book reader

Posted Jul 23, 2009 7:32 UTC (Thu) by Hanno (guest, #41730) [Link]

"interested party" = the average user?

The grumpy editor's e-book reader

Posted Jul 22, 2009 17:35 UTC (Wed) by jengelh (subscriber, #33263) [Link]

Some of the download links on the amazon page have a strange ….tar.gz%20 trailing ending (inside <a href="…">), leading the webserver to return 403. Remove %20 and it flies again.

The grumpy editor's e-book reader

Posted Jul 22, 2009 17:49 UTC (Wed) by dlang (subscriber, #313) [Link]

take a look at blogkindle.com

they also have a recent article on the 1984 fiasco http://www.blogkindle.com/2009/07/update-on-amazon-book-d...

it turns out that someone who didn't have rights to the book filled out the self-service web form claiming that they did, amazon took the action that they did after being contacted by the real copyright owners.

they claim that they will not do the same thing in the future (the backlash did work)

but it does raise the question (which is also very relavent to opensource software), how do you protect party A if party B tells party C that they have the right distribute something when they really don't? just having party A bring a lawsuit against party B may not be enough.

The grumpy editor's e-book reader

Posted Jul 22, 2009 18:08 UTC (Wed) by Baylink (guest, #755) [Link]

Since those works are not in copyright anymore in some countries, and since they don't actually say, I question whether in fact the works were being uploaded for sale illegally by whomever did so.

It's entirely possible that the person posting them did in fact do so within the laws of the jurisdiction where they reside.

The grumpy editor's e-book reader

Posted Jul 22, 2009 18:55 UTC (Wed) by dlang (subscriber, #313) [Link]

however amazon needs to follow the laws of the country that they are distrubuting the works in, in this case the US.

in addition, since the kindle service is only available in the US, someone stating that a work can be sold to kindle users is at the very least strongly implying that it can be done under US law (and if the web site didn't state this explicitly before, I'm pretty sure that it has been changed to state that after this fiasco)

a general overview of the issue(s)

Posted Jul 22, 2009 21:28 UTC (Wed) by jabby (guest, #2648) [Link]

Slate has a good article on the Kindle and its recent remote ebook deletion behavior:

http://www.slate.com/id/2223214/

a general overview of the issue(s)

Posted Jul 22, 2009 22:19 UTC (Wed) by dlang (subscriber, #313) [Link]

this is a very good article, and it's one of the few that is not either directly attacking or defending Amazon. instead the author focuses on the underlying issue

The grumpy editor's e-book reader

Posted Jul 23, 2009 12:44 UTC (Thu) by zooko (guest, #2589) [Link]

> they claim that they will not do the same thing in the future (the backlash did work)

It's interesting that a lot of people feel that the problem is solved by Amazon.com announcing that they will refrain from abusing their power in the future. I don't feel that way at all. I think that Amazon.com *having* that power in the first place is the problem. If they refrain from abusing it, this just hides the problem from the public -- it doesn't solve the problem.

The grumpy editor's e-book reader

Posted Jul 23, 2009 15:24 UTC (Thu) by dlang (subscriber, #313) [Link]

if they have the ability to update your software, they have the ability to do _anything_ to your system.

so, unless you intend to insist that they remove the ability to update the OS, they cannot remove all ability to remove files from the system, all they can do is promise not to abuse this ability.

The grumpy editor's e-book reader

Posted Jul 23, 2009 21:51 UTC (Thu) by ebs (subscriber, #30411) [Link]

This is certainly true, so the real fix is to remove that ability from Amazon completely, or (this is what I did) at least disable AUTOMATIC firmware updates + disable that ebook removal feature.

The grumpy editor's e-book reader

Posted Jul 24, 2009 0:35 UTC (Fri) by giraffedata (subscriber, #1954) [Link]

how do you protect party A if party B tells party C that they have the right distribute something when they really don't?

I don't know who Party A is here and what damage he's being protected from, but I think this is the same as an ancient hardware issue: If I sell a gold watch to a pawn shop, swearing that I own it, and the pawn shop sells the watch to you, and then the guy I stole the watch from sees you with it, you have to give it back to him. The pawn shop also has to give you back your money, and knows this well enough that it probably won't make you sue for it. I was smart enough to make sure the pawn shop can't find me, so the pawn shop takes a loss.

Pawn shops do various things to ameliorate the problem, including requiring ID from sellers. But in part, they just figure in the risk to the cost of doing business, which is probably where Amazon comes down when it agrees to distribute stuff based on little proof that it has a valid license to do so.

For some especially risky hardware, such as automobiles and houses, we solve the problem by having the government track ownership so a buyer can know the seller really has ownership to transfer. Something like that might be workable with software.

The grumpy editor's e-book reader

Posted Jul 24, 2009 4:55 UTC (Fri) by dlang (subscriber, #313) [Link]

put this in software terms.

what if I were to take your software, give it to Joe Smith, and tell him that he can distribute it. Joe then packages the software up and sells it to people.

then you notice that your software is showing up in strange places, go to Joe and provide proof that it really was your software, and that I had no right to tell him to publish it.

obviously he will stop distributing the software, but now there are lots of copies of your software around without your permission. how can you be 'made whole'?

in the case of electronic distribution, one method (which has been ordered by the courts in several cases) is to force Joe to issue refunds to everyone he sold your software to, and use the same distribution network to remove the software.

remember, until you told Joe that the software was yours, he had done nothing wrong.

The people who purchased the software from Joe thought that they were making a legitimate purchase, but they were buying stolen property.

now, you can make the argument that all joe would need to do is to turn over the money that he made from the sales to you, and in some cases that will be enough, but what if you really don't want your software to be out in the wild?

also, in cases of theft one of the first priorities is to try and get everything back as it was before the theft, and then look into penalties. if things cannot be put back, then compensation for the loss gets added.

The grumpy editor's e-book reader

Posted Jul 24, 2009 5:16 UTC (Fri) by jordanb (guest, #45668) [Link]

> in the case of electronic distribution, one method (which has been ordered
> by the courts in several cases) is to force Joe to issue refunds to
> everyone he sold your software to, and use the same distribution
> network to remove the software.

Name one time American courts have ordered such a thing.

The grumpy editor's e-book reader

Posted Jul 24, 2009 8:38 UTC (Fri) by johill (subscriber, #25196) [Link]

>> (removing software via distribution network if possible)
> Name one time American courts have ordered such a thing.

I don't think that's the question -- they will [1] eventually if there's a technical possibility. So the argument comes round saying the possibility shouldn't exist.

[1] and apparently have in other countries

The grumpy editor's e-book reader

Posted Jul 24, 2009 9:43 UTC (Fri) by dlang (subscriber, #313) [Link]

read the slate article pointed at in this post http://lwn.net/Articles/342917/ it mentions a couple of cases where the courts have ordered similar things.

The grumpy editor's e-book reader

Posted Jul 25, 2009 1:39 UTC (Sat) by jordanb (guest, #45668) [Link]

Echostar/DirectTV DVRs are rented, rather than purchased. So the court there was ordering Echostar to disable features on a device it still owns.

That's a whole lot different than ordering that devices which were sold in good faith to people who were not party to the lawsuit be forcibly recalled or disabled -- with no mechanism for the owners of the devices to protest or make their interests heard.

Now, no doubt the legal issue here is that you don't really *own* a kindle file like you own a book. I bet in the TOS somewhere Amazon says that they are really selling you an indefinite but conditional and revokable lease on your copy of the book. I'm sure they trumpet the lack of real ownership to the publishers as a major benefit of the format.

If the terms said that when you purchase an 'ebook' on the kindle, you actually do in fact own that file. I can not believe that they could have gotten away with deleting the books; I can't believe the courts would endorse let alone order such an action.

The grumpy editor's e-book reader

Posted Jul 25, 2009 2:03 UTC (Sat) by dlang (subscriber, #313) [Link]

directTV DVRs are purchased, not rented (I don't know about Echostar, but I suspect that they are the same)

there is a DVR charge per month, but that is very definantly not rent on the devices (among other things, it's a constant, no matter how many DVRs you have)

as for weasel words in the contract, I know that courts have struck down such rulings in the past for software purchases that the vendor tried to claim were only licenses to use.

The grumpy editor's e-book reader

Posted Jul 25, 2009 2:33 UTC (Sat) by jordanb (guest, #45668) [Link]

Direct TV recievers are rented. You have to pay $0 per month for the first receiver but the deal is still constructed as a rental.

<http://www.directv.com/DTVAPP/global/contentPage.jsp?asse...>

They spell it out even more explicitly in the "Equipment Lease Addendum":

<http://www.directv.com/DTVAPP/global/contentPage.jsp?asse...>

> YOU UNDERSTAND AND AGREE THAT YOU HAVE NOT PURCHASED THE DIRECTV
> EQUIPMENT, YOU DO NOT OWN THE DIRECTV EQUIPMENT AND THE DIRECTV
> EQUIPMENT MUST BE USED AND RETURNED TO DIRECTV STRICTLY IN
> ACCORDANCE WITH THE TERMS OF THIS EQUIPMENT LEASE ADDENDUM AND
> THE DIRECTV CUSTOMER AGREEMENT.

And just in case that doesn't stick, in the "Customer Agreement" they toss in restrictions specifically on the DVR software:

<http://www.directv.com/DTVAPP/global/contentPage.jsp?asse...>

> (c) Ownership. The Software is licensed, not sold, to you solely for
> your use under the terms of this license agreement, and DIRECTV and its
> suppliers reserve all rights not expressly granted to you. You shall own
> the media, if any, on which Software or End User Documentation is
> recorded, but DIRECTV and its suppliers retain ownership of all copies
> of the Software itself.

For more hilarity check out the FAQ:

<http://www.directv.com/DTVAPP/customer/faqPage.jsp?assetI...>

Like this for example:

> Q: I am charged a lease fee. I paid for my equipment upfront, so don't I
> own it?

> A: As technology becomes more advanced, leasing allows us to provide the
> latest equipment with minimal upfront cost to the customer. The upgrade
> fees allow us to keep our monthly lease fees low. Many leased items
> require an upfront payment as well as monthly fees. Just like leasing a
> car, a customer pays an amount upfront and that amount allows the
> customer and the company to keep the monthly lease fee low.

The funny thing about Corporate service agreements is... you know they're screwing you. But you gotta read the agreement if you want to find out the exact manner and method of the screwjob.

The grumpy editor's e-book reader

Posted Jul 25, 2009 19:51 UTC (Sat) by dlang (subscriber, #313) [Link]

for regular recievers you may be renting them, but when I get a DVR I have to pay a large lump sum for the equipment, that's a purchase, not a rental.

besides which, 4 of the 5 DVRs I have in my house connected to the directtv satellite were not acquired from directtv, so there is zero chance that they are rentals

The grumpy editor's e-book reader

Posted Jul 25, 2009 16:37 UTC (Sat) by giraffedata (subscriber, #1954) [Link]

I know that courts have struck down such rulings in the past for software purchases that the vendor tried to claim were only licenses to use.

They have also upheld such agreements. It is possible to use software without owning a copy of it. Even if the copy you're using is in your house.

And the Echostar case was even simpler, because it didn't involve any mind-twisting new intellectual property law; it was about ownership of hardware. Echostar disabled a box, which the contract said belonged to Echostar, though it was on the customer's property. That's been going on for hundreds of years, though it used to require a person to go to where the box was to disable it, rather than reach in through radio waves.

as for weasel words in the contract,

In a contract, "weasel words" are not terms that withold something one of the parties would like to have (or feels entitled to), such as control of a DVR. They're words that reduce the effect of an otherwise simple term, sometimes to nothing. For example, "DirectTV shall provide television service 24 hours per day, where practical." "Where practical" are weasel words. They're called that because one of the parties narrowly escapes an (otherwise) obligation, like a weasel can escape a predator's grip.

The grumpy editor's e-book reader

Posted Jul 25, 2009 20:09 UTC (Sat) by dlang (subscriber, #313) [Link]

yes it's possible to use software without purchasing it. I am not disputing that

but the question that the courts have asked in the cases I have noticed is if the acquisition of the software was structured as a purchase or not.

and from what I've seen, if the user pays a lump-sum up front for the software it's considered a purchase

the fact that you can sell your kindle on e-bay would also indicate that you purchased it.

in the case of a DVR, what happens when you cancel service with the satellite company? if you keep it (which is what I've always seen happen) it's a purchase, not a rental

The grumpy editor's e-book reader

Posted Jul 25, 2009 23:06 UTC (Sat) by jordanb (guest, #45668) [Link]

I think you should go back and read your customer service 'agreement' very carefully. It may surprise you.

Also, try checking out that FAQ question I posted.

At any rate, even if you continue to insist that they don't claim ownership of the receiver you have, they *clearly* and *separately* claim ownership of the DVR software, and they also reserve the right to change the software at any time (again, read your customer service agreement).

So DirectTV setup the legal framework to be ordered to disable their customer's DVRs, in an effort to retain far more centralized control than they'd have in a clear-cut transfer of ownership situation.

Amazon's distribution of 1984 based on false statement of ownership

Posted Jul 24, 2009 16:07 UTC (Fri) by giraffedata (subscriber, #1954) [Link]

put this in software terms.

Well, I'd rather not because copyright is not my area of expertise :-), but most of what you're asking is fairly general law, so I can still respond.

obviously he will stop distributing the software, but now there are lots of copies of your software around without your permission. how can you be 'made whole'?

We figure out (with the help of a court if necessary) how much money I lost by not being able to sell copies to those people and you and/or Joe pay me that amount. It's a very difficult calculation, but people do it all the time. In the US, there are also statutory damages that help with the calculation: legislation sets an arbitrary value on a copyright infringement that can be used when there's nothing better available.

remember, until you told Joe that the software was yours, he had done nothing wrong.

I beg to differ. As the most efficient means of preventing thefts, law often charges all people with the responsibility to make sure what they're buying isn't stolen, and Joe didn't do everything he could toward that responsibility. That was wrong. For example, Joe could have insisted that we broker the software through another company that is more trustworthy than me and more capable than Joe of detecting copyright infringements. My employer buys virtually all of its software through such a company for exactly this reason. It also won't take bug fixes from customers and is very reluctant to redistribute any open source software.

but what if you really don't want your software to be out in the wild?

The law can't help me with that. At least not English Common Law, which is the basis for US civil law, among others. The law, with few exceptions, deals only in money value of things.

in cases of theft one of the first priorities is to try and get everything back as it was before the theft, and then look into penalties. if things cannot be put back, then compensation for the loss gets added.

In my experience (again, English Common Law), "back as it was" is a statement about money. A court will rarely order a thief to return the stolen item, but rather will order payment of the market value of the item. Typically, the thief offers to return the item instead and the victim settles for that. There usually aren't penalties (except as part of an entirely separate criminal matter).

Amazon's distribution of 1984 based on false statement of ownership

Posted Jul 24, 2009 16:48 UTC (Fri) by dlang (subscriber, #313) [Link]

no, you are not required to do everything that you could do to determine if what you are buying has been stolen or not. if you were you could never buy anything, and auction sites like e-bay could not exist (exactly how do you go about proving that _anything_ you buy on e-bay has not been stolen)

it would be nice if the law only considered the actual price of something, but it doesn't appear to do so (see the mess with the RIAA lawsuits as an extreme example). it can also be hard to set the price of something that isn't being sold

also, right or wrong, right now there is a huge amount of paranoia about digital versions of things, with the fear being that if someone makes one digital copy of something available it will get copied everywhere and completely destroy the market for the original and any legitimate sales. for the people who believe in this logic (which unfortunately includes many judges at the moment), stray digital copies of things are a _very_ big deal

Amazon's distribution of 1984 based on false statement of ownership

Posted Jul 24, 2009 17:35 UTC (Fri) by giraffedata (subscriber, #1954) [Link]

no, you are not required to do everything that you could do to determine if what you are buying has been stolen or not.

Your "required" may be different from my "charges with a responsibility." Civil law doesn't define behavior a person must engage in, in that the person is evil and will be punished if he doesn't, with the goal of ridding society of the behavior. It only defines who has to pay when a set of behaviors results in damage. It's about structure, not morals.

Legally speaking, a person is absolutely "required" in most cases to make sure what he is buying isn't stolen, in that if he doesn't, and it's stolen, he is the one who pays, i.e. is the victim of the theft.

if you were you could never buy anything, and auction sites like e-bay could not exist (exactly how do you go about proving that _anything_ you buy on e-bay has not been stolen)

The reason you can buy things and Ebay can exist is that buyers are willing to take the risk (which in the Ebay case is pretty low because even if it's stolen, the owner will almost certainly not find the buyer).

Rest assured that if you bought a million dollar baseball on Ebay and announced to the world that you had it, and the true owner of the baseball could show that it's more likely than not that the baseball was stolen from him at some point, it doesn't matter how hard you tried to make sure the Ebay seller was authorized to sell it, you would have to give the ball back. Remember: the owner didn't do anything "wrong" either. Why should he pay?

Amazon's distribution of 1984 based on false statement of ownership

Posted Jul 24, 2009 18:37 UTC (Fri) by dlang (subscriber, #313) [Link]

the point I started with (which I think I managed to loose in this thread) is that (while I dislike what they did), issuing a refund and removing the book was not an insane thing to do.

and if you want to say that they should not do that, then the question comes up 'what should they do?'

you can't just say that amazon should turn over the money they collected and call it good (what if the copyright owner of the book wants to charge $1000 per digital copy of the book and amazon only charged $1, while this may be an unreasonable price, it is within their rights to set such a price)

Amazon's distribution of 1984 based on false statement of ownership

Posted Jul 25, 2009 1:57 UTC (Sat) by giraffedata (subscriber, #1954) [Link]

the point I started with (which I think I managed to loose in this thread) is that (while I dislike what they did), issuing a refund and removing the book was not an insane thing to do.
Yes, at one point you veered off into a larger, and quite interesting, question:
but it does raise the question (which is also very relavent to opensource software), how do you protect party A if party B tells party C that they have the right distribute something when they really don't?

And my comments were addressed solely to that.

I have no problem with Amazon's actions. I also have no problem with Amazon's plans not to handle it that way in the future.

I wonder if the copyright owner of 1984 was involved in the decision to revoke the books; I would think they would prefer that Amazon just pay them the money it refunded to the customers and let the customers keep the books.

Amazon's distribution of 1984 based on false statement of ownership

Posted Jul 25, 2009 2:13 UTC (Sat) by dlang (subscriber, #313) [Link]

from the stuff that amazon has published, it seems clear that the copyright holder was involved in telling amazon to stop, since they have the self-service tool to make the book available, the copyright holder could have gone ahead and made it available from that point on. the fact that they choose not to do so seems significant to me.

I would like to see discussion on that larger question, but I felt that I was getting confused over what we were talking about.

with opensource being so common, the probability that _someone_ will publish some code under an opensource license when they don't have the right to is high. once such code is out there with the wrong license terms on it, there is not really any way to 'unpublish' it, there will always be stray copies around with the incorrect license attached, and people will stumble across them and use them, further spreading the problem

it would be a good thing if we had some idea of how this could be dealt with _prior_ to someone ending up in court. I am not saying that the community should in any way support a guilty defendant, but it would make a _lot_ of sense to suggest remedies to the judge in a friend of the court brief that the community can live with rather than risking silly things like orders to shut down sourceforge or google code because they 'repeatedly publish' stolen code (as parts of different projects, all independent from each other, who's authors think they are legitimately using opensource code)

you didn't mention Amazons document conversion service

Posted Jul 22, 2009 18:01 UTC (Wed) by dlang (subscriber, #313) [Link]

Amazon offers two forms of a conversion service, you can e-mail a document to one address and they will convert it and e-mail it back to you (for free), or you can e-mail it to a second address and tehy will convert it and load it wirelessly onto the kindle (at a charge, $0.10 or $0.15 per meg, I use the service frequently, but haven't bothered to check the exact pricing ;-)

the mobi format that the kindle accepts is used by several other book readers (it's an extention of the .prc palm format, so items in that format also work), and so far I have not found any online bookstore that does not support it, including the ones that I have checked that are supposedly tied to competitors devices.

The grumpy editor's e-book reader

Posted Jul 22, 2009 18:08 UTC (Wed) by nelhage (subscriber, #59579) [Link]

> this reader seems to fail, silently, fairly often.

I suspect you're running into the same python-qt bug that caused that same behavior on my machine. There's a workaround at:

https://bugs.launchpad.net/ubuntu/+source/qt4-x11/+bug/36...

The grumpy editor's e-book reader

Posted Jul 22, 2009 21:42 UTC (Wed) by evgeny (guest, #774) [Link]

Well, as was mentioned in a comment above you can get the root shell pretty easily. With the upgrade package format deciphered [1], you can evidently "upgrade" your kindle to e.g. run anything at the startup time. I made mine look for a script in a specific path in the user-mountable partition and execute it if found. From there on, no special tricks were needed. With dropbear available precompiled for the arm arch, and after executing one of the "debug" commands to switch the USB port to the Ethernet mode [2] you get the shell access. Direct modifications to the system partition are possible; just mount -o remount,rw / first.

My motivation for the hacking was a perversive desire to read e-books in other but the English languages. Come on, no support for Unicode in the 21th century?! It turned out the Unicode support is there (well, except for the bidi languages), it's just the fonts that were intentionally castrated by the kindle developers. AFAICT this is mentioned neither in the docs nor in the FAQ. Apparently, Amazon believes Americans never read in a foreign lingua.

On the positive side, there is a rather large built-in Oxford dictionary; as someone for whom English is not a mother tongue, I find it indispensable.

[1] Google knows everything...
[2] ibid.

The grumpy editor's e-book reader

Posted Jul 22, 2009 22:17 UTC (Wed) by ebs (subscriber, #30411) [Link]

Kindle is pretty easily hackable. It's trivial to get a root shell, all UI is written in Java which makes reverse engineering rather simple. I was able to even replace stock screensaver functionality with a less annoying one.
Interested people can find more info in MobileRead formus - http://www.mobileread.com/forums/forumdisplay.php?f=140

The grumpy editor's e-book reader

Posted Jul 23, 2009 4:51 UTC (Thu) by lockhart (guest, #31615) [Link]

I have owned a Bookeen Cybook Gen 3 reader for over a year, and I dearly love the thing for reading fiction. It, too, likes the Mobi format; my favorite suite of tools is MobiPerl, available at: https://dev.mobileread.com/trac/mobiperl/wiki

The Cybook, though, has a PDF reader -- but awkwardly, given that the screen dimensions aren't friendly for full-size Letter/A4 pages. http://www.bookeen.com has full info.

A few publishers (Pragmatic Programmers) have released technical books in Mobi format as well as PDF and other formats. One advantage of Kindle, at least for fiction, is that new titles are often cheaper for it. Some publishers have the sad notion that new e-book releases should bear hardcover prices; most Kindle titles are under $10. The Mobileread forums are full of e-reader information, for those interested in current devices/software.

The grumpy editor's e-book reader

Posted Jul 23, 2009 7:46 UTC (Thu) by Tet (subscriber, #5433) [Link]

The installation instructions are based on the idea that feeding text from a web site directly into a root shell is a good idea

They're not the first to do that, and I doubt they'll be the last. I was amazed that there wasn't a bigger outcry when Ximian gave similar installation instructions some years ago. It's the ultimate in trading security for convenience, and it was being peddled by a bunch of people that really should have known better.

The grumpy editor's e-book reader

Posted Jul 23, 2009 11:38 UTC (Thu) by Trelane (subscriber, #56877) [Link]

I rather like my n810. For just a little more than a Kindle, you get an Internet Tablet built (almost) entirely on Free Software, and the book reader is one of the first things to install (along with a bunch of the Baen books!). It's not an e-ink reader, tho.

Ebook readers reviewed by Linux Pro Magazine

Posted Jul 23, 2009 15:12 UTC (Thu) by southey (subscriber, #9466) [Link]

Linux Pro Magazine did an article on ebook readers that appeared in issue 104 (Jul 2009) and the pdf is linked at:

http://www.linuxpromagazine.com/Issues/2009/104/FRESH-FRO...

(At least my Sony PRS-505 handles PDF and some other formats.)

When a more broad article on e-reader devices?

Posted Jul 23, 2009 15:27 UTC (Thu) by bockman (guest, #3650) [Link]

There are many e-reader devices with ePaper display - I bought myself a cybook Gen 3 18 month ago - and most (all of them) have linux on-board. Moreover, there are many sites selling on-line books, some in standard fomats, some others in vendor-locked formats.
Then there is OpenInkpot, which I did not know existed until now. More than enough material for an article peraphs?

When a more broad article on e-reader devices?

Posted Jul 23, 2009 15:39 UTC (Thu) by corbet (editor, #1) [Link]

Your editor would like nothing more than to be showered in such devices so that a survey article could be written. So far, the vendors of these devices have not been forthcoming, though, and your editor's mother - the source of the Kindle - probably cannot be counted upon for any further acquisitions. So it's going to be really hard to look at readers in general; writing such an article from web sites and marketing literature just doesn't give the same sort of results.

I do intend to play with OpenInkPot in the near future, stay tuned.

The grumpy editor's e-book reader

Posted Jul 25, 2009 1:03 UTC (Sat) by dps (subscriber, #5725) [Link]

I have not got a kindie. I looked int eh Kindle in some areas the books available are seriously limited. In many cases there are substitutes but the authoritative reference is not available, so if you want Garey and Johnson they you are out of luck. The cost of these books make a kindle look much more expensive.

I suspect many of the fundamental source books will never become available in PDF format.

It also would be nice to have a way to oragnise and carry around large volumes of articles extracted from electronic journals. You can theoretically buy these but the only sane thing is to use an academic library's subscription. Those without access themselves should button hole a friendly academic.


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