#blogjune 17: Selling the good life in the digital world

Today, having cleared other obligations, I spent the afternoon working in with (for) my dear wife in Helensville Library. I ran the front of house while she and her team cleared up a few tasks, a pleasurable exchange for all.

It was the late night, so I was out back having a bite to eat and a coffee when Sally asked me to talk to a gentleman about our ebooks.

The conversation centred around whether our ebook collection would be usable on his soon-to-arrive Kindle. The short answer, according to our support pages is no. Kindle does not provide support for ePUB documents.

The longer answer is yes, so long as one changes the filetype, thereby stripping the DRM from the file. This was a statement I was not going to make to the gentleman. Safe? If only it were that easy.

Taking the high road, I guided him to our support pages and discussed with him the range of platforms he could use Adobe Editions to manage his borrowed eBooks on. His response:

“Yeah, but I can convert anything to anything.”

He’s right, of course. There are single-purpose websites available for almost any format conversion desired. I’ve used them to tinker with my backing tracks for performance when needing to do quick work on a machine that doesn’t have a music editing suite installed.

I have a response for moments like these. I allowed for the existence of such tools, but asked that the gentleman not to tell me if he chose to use them to circumvent our licensing agreements. When he countered suggesting he could simply use another type of site to download the item directly (I won’t mention the method, but suffice to say it’s not the P2P we’re all supposed to be concerned about) all I could do was raise my eyebrows and smile innocuously, an expression few believe however often I practice it.

We talked some more, and by the end of the conversation I understood he was enthusiastic to use our service so that he could do his eReading ethically and as close to legally as possible. He wished to borrow from us and delete the item at or before the due date, rather than use a possibly more convient pirate source, so that his use of the rights could be correctly reported.

I don’t know if we’ll ever have a set of universally-adopted, standardised file formats. Given that, “close to legal” is an interesting, and perhaps useful, construct although I do not advocate shifting file formats illegally. Over in the Diligent Room I use road speed limits as an analogy; some, in fact, get annoyed at  people who do drive at fifty in a fifty kilometres per hour zone. To drive legally can to disturb the flow of traffic, which is in fact a crime. Just try driving at 30 on the motorway. Is downloading legally disturbing to the flow of information?

I’m put in mind of Aristotle’s good life. We can either identify my customer as a would-be pirate, or as in a very real way opting to make his digital reading a more complicated affair for an ethical reason.

If we decide that the glass is half full here, I think we can refocus our conversation away from breaches and towards the opportunities that selling an ethical digital life affords us. With the eyes of the nation looking at a new law and wondering which of their behaviours will put them on the wrong side we’d be crazy to do otherwise.

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About seanmurgatroyd
Library (Shared blog): http://diligentroom.wordpress.com/ Personal including infoculture, book reviews: http://diligentroom.wordpress.com/ Music: http://seanfishmusic.wordpress.com/ Last.fm band page: http://www.last.fm/music/Seanfish @seanfish

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