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03.21.09

Amazon’s Linux-powered and DRM-laden Gadget Sued for Patent Infringement

Posted in Courtroom, DRM, GNU/Linux, Kernel, Microsoft at 12:21 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Summary: Amazon sued for using DRM

UNLIKE THE TOMTOM CASE, THE NATURE of this complaint and lawsuit against Amazon’s Kindle has nothing to do with Linux; however, it exposes vulnerabilities in both the notion of software patenting and DRM.

The first report that we found is this one.

Discovery Communications, the company behind the Discovery Channel, has sued Amazon.com for allegedly violating a patent on electronic book technology with the Kindle.

Discovery filed the patent infringement suit against Amazon in U.S. District Court in Delaware alleging that the sale of both versions of the Kindle violates a patent Discovery received in 2007.

We now know the obvious — that eBooks too are a patent minefield (one of the “in digital form” patents, much like the “over the Internet” patents). This may problematic because Linux is hugely popular in eBooks. It’s almost a de facto standard in fact. To give examples from the past year or two, see [1-11] in the references below. Kindle just happens to be most talked about [12-20], often in the context of is DRM-imposed harms [21-24].

Business Insider confirms that the lawsuit is about DRM.

Another patent lawsuit that left us scratching our heads: Discovery Communications (DSCIA) is suing Amazon (AMZN), claiming the Kindle infringes on a patent Discovery has for DRM on digital books.

This sure sounds like another reason to abolish DRM. In fact, to an extent, Sony and Google are doing exactly that at the moment, for competitive reasons.

Its headline-grabbing competitor, the Amazon Kindle, has monopolized e-book news with its new Kindle 2 reader, an Oprah Winfrey endorsement, and an even a pesky intellectual property lawsuit from Discovery Communications.

But this week’s announcement of a Google-Sony partnership shines the spotlight on Sony Reader in a big way. More than a half-million public domain books published before 1923 will be available for free to Reader customers via the Sony eBook store. The titles were digitized as part of the Google Book Search effort, and since they’re free of copyright entanglements, Google and Sony probably won’t encounter any legal challenges from the publishing industry.

This parallels the business proposition of Free software, which undercuts the competition based on price and value. Nothing but collusion — and almost the equivalent of price-fixing — can actually enable all businesses to uniformly cripple their own offerings, but this is precisely what they tried. They are called the “copyright cartel” for a reason. Some call them maximalists and ACTA is means for enforcing this [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19] at a legal level, not just unilateral agreements, sometimes known as “conspiracies”.

Regarding public domain, we recommend the following good talk from Richard Stallman (Flash required, sorry).

Book talks
Literature and publishers want to be free and exercise rights

As regards the Amazon lawsuit, more information can be found in TechDirt and in Ars Technica, which presents an informative picture too.

One person already suggests that Microsoft may be behind it and a new blog post brings back memories of the Microsoft Reader which never caught on.

MS Reader was Microsoft’s noble attempt to change the way ebooks were read. Reader offered an actual book-like interface that was easy on eyes. It had two other advantages. First, the ebooks created in Reader format (.lit) were considerably smaller in size than an equivalent PDF. Second, it introduced text-to-speech in ebook reading (it would read the book word-by-word with adjustable voice speed).

The bottom line is that DRM leads to lawsuits rather than prevent them (e.g. action from angry publishers) and devices are not immune to lawsuits just because they use GNU or Linux. This justifies immediate action against both DRM and software patents. The big loser here is the consumer.
____
[1] Ebook reader to offer Linux dev platform

A Berlin-based start-up called Txtr is readying an ebook reader that boasts an “open architecture” Linux development platform. Like Amazon’s Kindle 2, the Txtr Reader offers a 532MHz processor, a 3G connection, a second-generation E Ink grayscale display, and tie-ins to online services.

[2] Make ebooks pretty with GutenMark

Project Gutenberg is a real treasure trove for bookworms and casual readers alike, but turning etext files into a readable form is not as easy as it may seem. In theory, since etexts are just plain text files, you should be able to open and read them on any platform without any tweaking. In practice, however, this approach rarely works. Hard line breaks, for example, ruin the text flow, making it virtually impossible to read the book on a mobile device. Another problem is that most books are stored as single files, so locating a particular chapter or section in a lengthy book can quickly become a serious nuisance. Then there are minor, but still annoying formatting quirks, such as inconsistent handling of italicized text, use of straight quotes instead of smart ones, and so on.

[3] Ultra-light ebook reader runs Linux

PDF software company Foxit is readying an electronic book reader that weighs 6.4 ounces, measures 0.4 inches thick, and runs Linux. The Foxit eSlick offers E Ink’s low-power electronic-paper display, ships with an MP3 player, and sells for $100 less than an Amazon Kindle.

[4] How Linux (and Ebooks) will save the publishing world!

Linux can also help these publications in the server department, on desktops, PDA’s, mobile devices, cameras, and a wide range of other things.  It’ll be everywhere, helping them to adapt to this new market and make the move into the 21st century of technology.

With all these wonderful Linux powered devices standing by to help them, it’s now up to the companies to do the right thing and make the switch.  But when and if they do it is another matter entirely.  Then again, if they don’t, they’ll only have themselves to blame for their failure.

[5] 10 Linux-powered E-book Readers

Linux just keeps popping up on many of the popular gadgets that are hogging the limelight nowadays. Some are quite conspicuous about it, like the Android phone that is being developed by a group that makes it very obvious, calling themselves the Open Handset Alliance. However, there are some that don’t flaunt Linux around, like the Amazon Kindle. Not that they have to, but well, allow me to do it for them here anyway.

[6] Rollup e-reader runs Linux

Philips spinoff Polymer Vision has announced plans to ship a Linux-based e-reader with a flexible, rollup display. Thanks to the screen’s low power consumption, the “Readius” offers up to 30 hours of reading without a battery charge, according to the company.

[7] E-paper support for Linux

One of the electrophoretic display controllers for which Linux support has been posted (tarball) is a controller from E-Ink called Apollo. This controller is interfaced to the host through 8-bit data and 6-bit control over General Purpose IO (GPIO) interfaces.

[8] Down with paper: A review of the Sony Reader

Not only does the new Reader sport an SD card slot alongside the Pro Duo slot, but it plays AAC and MP3 files; ATRAC doesn’t even make an appearance on the spec sheet. Oh, and did I mention that the Reader is Penguin-powered?

[9] Sharp intros RD-CX100 dictionary / e-book reader

It may not boast quite the versatility of its souped-up Linux-based “electronic dictionary,” but if you’re just looking for some basic e-book reading capabilities along with your multi-lingual dictionary, Sharp’s new RD-CX100 looks like it may fit the bill.

[10] HP offers peek at next-gen gadgets

HP has unveiled some of the gadgets it is working on in its worldwide laboratories.

[...]

The e-book attracted most interest from delegates at the HP Mobility Summit in Shanghai. It uses touch sensitive strips on the base of the rectangular unit to select books and turn pages, runs a Linux OS and has a USB port to install new titles.

[11] Linux-based eBook reader leverages lightweight browser

The NetFront browser enables users to click through to linked reference sites, such as Wikipedia, while they are reading.

[12] Linux dominates in Amazon Kindle competitors

Linux runs on the first e-book reader released this year … and on the second … and the third.

[13] “Amazon’s Kindle eBook Reader

But in the final analysis, the point of the thing is to be a better book. It does this very well. Everything else is just icing on the cake, which is, in this case, not a lie.

[14] Amazon.com Launches Wireless Reader

The Linux-based device weighs 10.3 ounces, can store 200 titles on its 250 MB of onboard flash memory, and its battery can hold a charge for two days with the wireless feature on and seven days with it off, Amazon said. The reader is made by a Chinese OEM and can be purchased on Amazon.com for $399.

[15] Mobipocket books on Kindle

We’ve known for some time already that Amazon’s AZW files are actually Mobi files, but Amazon didn’t share Kindle’s Mobi PID which would allow one to buy encrypted Mobi books for Kindle.
Well, I’ve discovered the algorithm used to generate the PID and was able to use it on Fictionwise, but there was another catch. AZW files have a flag set in the DRM info which is not present in books bought from other vendors. After fixing that, I could read the book on Kindle.

[16] Kindle sold out

There is no telling if this is a consequence of consumer demand exceeding Amazon’s forecasts as to how many people would want this thing, or if Amazon is taking a page out of Nintendo’s book and creating a little product scarcity to drum up business. All I know is I got mine in the mail today, and I’m already in love.

Flop? I think not.

[17] New eBook Reader Undercuts Kindle, Sony Reader Prices

Available in black, gray, or white, the device will have 128MB of internal memory, plus USB and an SD Card slot (it’ll come with a 2GB card, too). Because its screen draws very little power, battery life should be extremely long; Foxit says it’ll go for 8,000 page turns between recharges; it recharges via either USB or an included AC adapter. It uses an embedded Linux operating system, too.

[18] Amazon Kindle: A Road Warrior’s Best Friend

I don’t care if print is dead, or if it’s just resting a while. What I do care about is getting the best, most versatile access to information when and where I need it. And for this, I’ve come to depend on my Amazon Kindle. While the rest of the tech world is busy kvetching over the forthcoming second-gen Kindle’s design aesthetics and its admittedly hefty $359 price tag, I’m wondering only one thing: Will it make me want to upgrade?

[19] You ready for Kindle 2.0?

The Amazon Kindle book reader appears on the verge of showing off a new makeover.

[20] Kindle Sold Out Until February

The Kindle has been out for a year, and has been enormously popular, so its vanishing makes a degree of sense. But one would figure Amazon understood the demand for its product and would stockpile appropriately.

[21] Adobe Digital Editions: a Fraud!

I am not decided yet whose fraud is bigger: Adobe’s one, or that of the e-book publishers who infamously market the digital content for Adobe Digital Editions as content for Adobe Reader?

[...]

You should therefore avoid e-books from HarperCollins, and be cautious: when the DRM’ed contents “fine-grained rights”, it’s unlikely to be a PDF (even if marketed as “Adobe Reader”), but something worse.

[22] Don’t let DRM get between you and a good book

Amazon Kindle (Swindle), Sony Reader (Sh-reader), and others are all competing to control how, what, and when we can read with their competing Digital Restrictions Management technologies. Let’s let them know that we won’t buy their ebook readers until they get rid of the DRM!

[23] The Kindle Swindle

It seems that Amazon only cares to oppose DRM when they can profit from it, such as when they advertise their MP3′s as “Play Anywhere, DRM-Free Downloads.” The same is not true for Kindle ebooks. Perhaps if they were honest they would advertise their ebooks as “Play Only Here, DRM-Laden Kindle Ebooks.”

[24] Linux Journal Live – eBook Readers and DRM

The November 13, 2008 edition of Linux Journal Live! Shawn Powers and special guest, Linux Journal Author Daniel Bartholomew, talk e-book readers and Daniel’s Kindle, DRM, and other goodness.

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4 Comments

  1. Robert said,

    March 21, 2009 at 1:28 pm

    Gravatar

    i believe that Microsoft might be involved with this lawsuit brought on by Discovery networks. i have noticed a lot of television advertising of Microsoft products on all of the networks that discovery owns (the History channel, Animal Plannet, etc). i have also seen the celebrities for a very popular show that is produced & shown exclusevily on discovery networks main channel, “The discovery channel” do blurbs for Windows Vista on their show. the program is called Mythbusters. i used to like their show, but after seeing this, they have lost all credibillity.
    i believe that Microsoft is using the Discovery networks as a proxy, just like they did with SCO.

  2. David Gerard said,

    March 22, 2009 at 12:30 pm

    Gravatar

    Where’s the book reader that just plays PDFs? That’s all I want, something good to read PDFs on! Apparently this is too simple. Or I can theoretically email PDFs to Amazon whereupon they will deign to translate them to DRMed format for me. How nice of them.

  3. Roy Schestowitz said,

    March 22, 2009 at 2:58 pm

    Gravatar

    I was doing just that in 2002 with my Palm.

  4. Jose_X said,

    March 22, 2009 at 3:30 pm

    Gravatar

    Robert, I’d like to find out more along the lines of what you just mentioned. Discovery Communications may have been wooed because they might feel they have a valuable position at risk, as a major source of educational material.

    In fact, I had not realized or remembered that all of those channels were owned together [ http://corporate.discovery.com/our-company/ ]. The scent of monopolization is never too far from where you find Monopolysoft standing.

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