The internets have been filled with copious amounts of mouth froth over the last few days regarding Apples new iBooks Author software. The issue is the EULA, which basically says that if you want to sell a book that you’ve created with the software that you have to sell it through Apples iBookstore and that you can’t sell it in the same binary format anywhere else. Most importantly, you are still free to use the same content in a different format and distribute it in anyway you like (pdf, Kindle, print etc). The restriction doesn’t apply if you give the book away for free. People also seem to be griping that Apple has the right to refuse to allow you to sell your book in their marketplace if they deem it unfit for any reason (sounds familiar, doesn’t it).
Anyhow, here’s the offending part of the agreement:
B. Distribution of your Work. As a condition of this License and provided you are in compliance with its terms, your Work may be distributed as follows:
(i) if your Work is provided for free (at no charge), you may distribute the Work by any available means;
(ii) if your Work is provided for a fee (including as part of any subscription-based product or service), you may only distribute the Work through Apple and such distribution is subject to the following limitations and conditions: (a) you will be required to enter into a separate written agreement with Apple (or an Apple affiliate or subsidiary) before any commercial distribution of your Work may take place; and (b) Apple may determine for any reason and in its sole discretion not to select your Work for distribution.
Apple will not be responsible for any costs, expenses, damages, losses (including
without limitation lost business opportunities or lost profits) or other liabilities you may incur as a result of your use of this Apple Software, including without limitation the fact that your Work may not be selected for distribution by Apple.
On the surface this all sounds very ominous, but when you read through the whole thing you notice that nowhere does Apple claim ownership of your work. All they state is that if you want to sell your work through their bookstore (using their custom format, which is produced by their software) that you don’t sell the same digital file outside of their bookstore. In other words, Apple doesn’t want anyone else creating an alternative book marketplace to sell the same format. Does this sound familiar? Of course it does – it’s exactly the same thing that Apple (and Microsoft, with the Windows Phone 7 Market) did with iOS apps. If you produce an app in the format for execution on iOS you can only distribute it through the AppStore and Apple has the right to reject your application. It’s the same thing! Actually, the iBookstore restrictions are actually more friendly, since you still have to distribute free iOS apps through the AppStore as well.
I do, however, have some reservations about how Apple is going to police the content of the bookstore. It’s easy enough to have automated processes to test if an app behaves properly and it’s relatively easy to verify that the content meets the marketplace requirements (ignoring the subjective nature of that). How does one go about this for a book though? I assume it means reading the entire book? I’m pretty sure that the whoever gets this job will immediately reject the book on the first violation (spelling mistake, maybe) and that there will be two classes of rejection (non publishable due to the nature of the content, and needs editing due to lousy spelling, grammar and layout). However this pans out, I’m pretty sure that Apple is going to take a lot of heat in this area and that they’re going to have to tread very carefully so as to not be accused of restricting free speech and undue censorship.
My other issue with everything is that this is an iOS only thing, but hopefully Apple will release a reader application for other platforms, much like Amazon did with the Kindle software.