from the bound-by-law dept
Font blogger Thomas Phinney writes in to tell us about his concerns with the DMCA anti-circumvention clause in relation to creating home-printed versions of digital books. Phinney prints, stitches and binds his own books at home, producing fancy hardcovers for purely personal use from legally-purchased PDF ebooks. This, alone, is a clearly protected case of fair use -- even if it runs afoul of the overreaching copyright notices found in so many ebooks. The problem is that making nice, bound editions takes some extra work, and anti-circumvention laws get in the way:
Making a really high end hardcover from a document such as a PDF involves rearranging the pages (“imposition”) in order to print them in sets on sheets with more than one page per side, so that you can fold them and sew them in groups (“signatures”).
Commercial e-books sold as PDFs are often encrypted with flags on the PDF permit printing, but not modification. Nor do they permit “document assembly” which is exactly what I need: the ability to rearrange, add and delete pages in the PDF. Unfortunately, common approaches to doing imposition involve generating a modified PDF: one in which the pages are at least rearranged and put more than one to a (now larger) page. So far, it looks like many (perhaps all?) imposition apps do it this way and don’t work with PDFs that have restrictions on modification (perhaps on PDFs that have *any* access restrictions?).
Now, I can easily break the encryption on a PDF, if that PDF allows opening but just has restrictions on specific uses like modification. If I do that, I can then use imposition software on a PDF that allows printing but not modification, and make a fancy book.
But (at least as I understand it, and admittedly I’m not a lawyer) the Digital Millenium Copyright Act says that circumventing an access restriction is always illegal, regardless of why I do it. That makes me a criminal if I do that, even if for the sole reason of making a pretty hardcover book. Even when printing the pages out normally and slapping glue on the spine, like a typical softcover “perfect-bound” book, is permitted and legal.
The inherently nonsensical nature of the anti-circumvention clause strikes again: the ends are fair use, but the means are illegal. Of course, since circumvention software itself is illegal too, this raises questions about the applications that are available -- but breaking PDF protection is so trivial that the law seems futile. MacOS even ships with a system tool (ColorSync Utility) that inadvertently removes PDF passwords (an old graphic designer's trick for clients who have lost their source files). This kind of thing is inevitable when you have a law that targets the tools instead of the actual activity, since it's a near-universal truth about tools that they can all be used for both good and bad purposes.