Canadian Ebook Store Offers 'Free' Public Domain Ebooks — Claims Copyright Says You Can Only Make 1 Copy

from the not-this-again dept

Brendan writes Chapters/Indigo, the dominant book retailer in Canada, just recently launched their eBook store, thinly disguised as an independent 3rd party called ShortCovers. Both companies are children of the parent company Indigo Books & Music Inc.

The fact that they have launched an eBook program is not a problem. It’s great, in fact. I’d like to see more action in this space, and anything to help people read more is a step in the right direction. The problem I have is with how they’ve done it.

When announcing the service on Monday, the company trumpeted loudly the offer of “FREE eBook downloads!” in a mass email and on the main Chapters page. Can you guess what all the eBooks offered for free have in common? That’s right, they’re almost all public domain works. They do list the publisher as “Gutenberg” for all the PD books, but do they explain what that means? Do they inform the user that these are public domain works? Do they include a link to, where any user can download these books in plain texts to use however they want? No, of course not.

Instead, they wrap the books up in their tight little DRM package. Each page (according to their idea of a page) loads painfully in a flash frame and within the text of the book is non-selectable. And most are not available as downloads (as they are on Gutenberg).

The worst offense? That dangerous little line at the bottom of each page of each book: “(C) All Rights Reserved All copyright ownership rights relating to this content are specifically and expressly reserved by the owner thereof and are marked © by the owner of this content, 2009.” An interesting claim, to be sure. What am I to do with this book, ShortCovers?

“All Rights Reserved. You are free to make one (1) copy of this work for non-commercial purposes only, provided you abide by the following:
* For any reuse or distribution, you must make clear to others the license terms of this work. The best way to do this is with a link to this web page.
* Any of the above conditions can be waived if you get permission from the copyright holder.
* Nothing in this license impairs or restricts the author’s moral rights.”

I can make one (1) copy? Wow! I better use it carefully.”

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen bookstores DRM up and claim copyright over public domain works. The DRM stuff is dumb, but understandable, since they just want to have one system and often seem to choose an anti-consumer one. But telling people that they are only allowed to make one copy of a public domain work and putting a © sign on it is pretty ridiculous.

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Companies: chapters/indigo, shortcovers

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Comments on “Canadian Ebook Store Offers 'Free' Public Domain Ebooks — Claims Copyright Says You Can Only Make 1 Copy”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Circumventing DRM

It’s amazing how the law is uniformly in favor of the rich and the powerful at public expense. It’s illegal for an individual to circumvent DRM yet if some big corporation puts DRM on a public domains work and incorrectly puts restrictions on that work then it’s perfectly legal (well, it maybe illegal as a formality but it’s legal in the sense that the government puts ZERO effort into enforcing such a law. From now on if the government puts zero effort into enforcing a law I am going to refer to the action that the law allegedly bans as legal because it basically is).

Valkor says:

"All Rights Reserved"

I see the phrase “All rights reserved” all over the place. In this case, it looks like all=0. Someone really needs to explain to them that their copyright notice is uselessly broad incomprehensible gibberish that is completely meaningless on a public domain work.
Don’t even get me started about the line in the clarification regarding “moral” rights.

Chris Brand says:

This could be helpful

as we’re still fighting to avoid a DMCA-like law up here. This gives another example of the harm that would be done by it. Now it’s no longer “if some hypothetical company were to put DRM on a public domain work, I wouldn’t be able to exercise my legal rights”. Instead we can say “When Chapters put DRM on public domain works, I would have been unable to exercise my legal rights”.

Michael Tamblyn (profile) says:

Mistake? Yes. Malevolent copyright grab? Heck no.

Hi, I head up content acquisition for Shortcovers and thought I’d wade in. Basically, we goofed up on the copyright message. No malevolence intended or attempted. Right now, as some posters above have pointed out, we use the same copyright message for both in-copyright works and public domain titles. Obviously, that’s a dumb thing to do. We need a separate message that makes the public domain status of the works clear and sets out the rights that go along with a PD work. And we will.

Considering that we’re planning to add a lot more PD works to Shortcovers soon, we’re trying to get this straightened out as soon as we can. This is totally an example of an error made in haste as we sprint along.

Regarding lack of epub downloadability, it’s something we’re working on. Some Gutenberg epubs are a bit shaky in terms of syntax, so rather than pick-and-choose good ones and reject bad ones, we’re processing directly from the Gutenberg .txt into XHTML for display on web and mobile devices, which gives us a cleaner file. But that does mean we don’t have an epub to serve up. As we make our epub parser more forgiving, we’ll fire up the epub download goodness for all. (Of course, you can always zip over to Gutenberg and grab them direct.)

Recap: Mistake? Yes. Malevolent copyright grab? No. Fixable? You bet, and we’re on the case.

to 1st poster says:

recent US law

said that was WRONG
and ill add let them try and sue me in a court of law for killing the drm for a public work
will be VERY VERY VERY BAD PRESS especially when the word “FREE” is used WRONGLY as it is not free you are not free to do certain things according to them and ill argue with a public domain work you are free to TRY and get people to go along with said stuff but they are under no legal obligation to do so.

I am allowed by law to crack smack and toss around anyhting thats public domain if its intent is to merely tell the EXACT same story and is not a modified story or made more new ( 75% under canuck law if you change it its a new work)
then it is NOT a new work and thus you can color the writing change the fonts add drm in back ground and it changes nothing IT IS THE SAME WORK.

I went through this with the GODWARS mud code which me and a friend rewrote 80% of the code and the original owner tried to push copyright and FAILED in both the USA and Canada.

Sheogorath (profile) says:

@ Michael Tamblyn

You’re in the wrong even if you remove the copyright notices from the Public Domain texts. Project Gutenberg says: “A Project Gutenberg ebook is made out of two parts: the public domain book and the non public domain Project Gutenberg trademark and license. If you strip the Project Gutenberg license and all references to Project Gutenberg from the ebook, you are left with a public domain ebook. You can do anything you want with that.” Basically, if you want to restrict access to a book you got from Project Gutenberg, you MUST remove all reference to them as the publisher, or it’s trademark infringement. Plus, if your company puts a book through a process to make it readable, they are the de facto publisher, which makes your claims suspicious, to say the least.

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