Alice in Wonderland indeed

This is old news, but I just learned about it through an article by Robert Darnton on the New York Review of Books web log.  Abobe Systems 2000 e-book version of Alice in Wonderland, which was first published in 1865, came with the following restrictions.

Copy: No text selections can be copied from the book to the clipboard….

Lend: This book cannot be lent to someone else.

Give: This book cannot be given to someone else.

Read aloud: This book cannot be read aloud.

Lawrence Lessig, the intellectual property expert, explained that this wasn’t quite as bad as it sounded because Adobe didn’t actually mean “read aloud” by the words read aloud, but the use of an audio system called Read Aloud in connection with the book.  These seems like Wonderland use of language. Anyhow the book is, and was then in the public domain, so why shouldn’t people be free to copy, lend, give or read aloud the book in any sense of the word they chose?

This compares to Amazon’s deleting 1984 from its Kindle systems last year – an illustration of the novel’s “memory hole” in real life.  Once again, this wasn’t as bad as it sounded.  The copyright doesn’t expire in the United States until 2044, and Amazon received information questioning its right to publish.  1984 was published in 1949, and George Orwell died in 1950; I don’t see what purpose is served in extending copyright for 95 years after publication.

Robert Darnton’s article was about the benefits of digitizing the world’s books.  Maybe he’s right, but I’ll hang on to my paper versions of Alice in Wonderland and 1984. Nobody can delete them or forbid me to copy, sell, give or lend them, or read them aloud.

Click on Adobe in Wonderland for Lawrence Lessig’s defense of Adobe.

Click on Amazon Erases Orwell Books for a New York Times article on that incident.

Click on A Library Without Walls for Robert Darnton’s NYRB article.

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