Apple’s iBooks Author EULA Restriction is Dumb, Not Evil

by Steve Wildstrom   |   January 21st, 2012

Apple created a fair stir around the internet with a provision in the end-user license for its new iBooks Author software that requires that content created using the tool can only be sold through iTunes. ZDNet’s Ed Bott called the move “greedy and evil” while even the normally Apple-friendly John Gruber denounced it as “Apple at its worst.”

iBooks Author iconIn fact, that EULA language is merely stupid not evil. Apple is not asserting any sort of control over the contents of your book, just the formatted output of iBooks Author. That output can only be used to create an iBook and iBooks can only be sold through iTunes, so the language doesn’t actually create any restriction that isn’t already inherent in the software. Besides, no one has to use iBooks Author; there are other tools for creating iBooks.

But while the language of the Apple license may be ineffectual, it is not meaningless. In asserting this sort of control, Apple violated a longstanding principle of software: A program may not impose restrictions on the content it is used to create. Even the Free Software Foundation’s General Public License, in many ways one of the most restrictive licenses around,  doesn’t try to prevent conventional copyright terms on say, a book written using the GPL-licensed emacs editor. And certainly neither Microsoft nor Adobe has ever attempted any control on the output of Word or Photoshop. Tools should be just that; the uses of their output should be solely up to the creator (subject, as in the case of iBooks Author, to purely technical restrictions.)

Perhaps the best face you can put on this mess is Gruber’s interpretation: “Let’s hope this is just the work of an overzealous lawyer, and not [Apple's] actual intention.”

Steve Wildstrom

Steve Wildstrom is veteran technology reporter, writer, and analyst based in the Washington, D.C. area. He created and wrote BusinessWeek’s Technology & You column for 15 years. Since leaving BusinessWeek in the fall of 2009, he has written his own blog, Wildstrom on Tech and has contributed to corporate blogs, including those of Cisco and AMD and also consults for major technology companies.
  • http://www.facebook.com/ccocrawford Colin Crawford

    I agree it’s a dumb move by Apple – and hopefully they will address it quickly.

    For Apple to “revolutionize” the textbook industry it needs to address

    - textbooks in the cloud – these are often massive downloads 1/2GB – you don’t need to download the whole book – selective chapters are fine and will help manage storage on the iPad
    - subscription and rental models – the outright purchase model is problematic even at the reduce pricing , esp without resale being allowed. A well thought out rental model is needed. Likewise a subscription across content / publishers would be welcome – I’d like to be able to select content from multiple sources within a single subscription.

    However, the education market will not be revolutionized unless iPads and other tablets become affordable for the masses.

  • benbajarin

    This is an interesting topic. I think it brings up all kinds of important discussion points. Although I think Apple’s logic is somewhat similar to an SDK type mindset. If I use the Apple SDK for Mac or iOS then I am clearly developing software only for Macs or iOS. There is no point in me offering these for purchase for any other platform because the software won’t work.

    Perhaps this is the similar logic in that an iBook is only going to work with iBooks. This would of course be an entirely different story had Apple opened up their publishing platform as open source for anyone creating tablet or next gen e-reader to use. At that point, however, controlling the distribution method would be more difficult.

    Without certainty, I think this is how their logic is going. In that an iBook is a proprietary solution only available on iPad. Therefore it is being treated like an App from a purchasing and billing solution.

    What Amazon and others need to do is move quickly to release tool kits to do something similar. It will be a pain for authors to have to create two separate documents to publish, one on iPad and one Amazon or others. But that is how I see this playing out.

  • AppleFUD

    From the wording used in the EULA and the fact that apple is a very litigious company with many lawyers it’s hard to imagine that they are just being “dumb.”

    It seems rather obvious that apple needs/wants a way to prevent people from putting ebooks on multiple platforms and therefore are making a grab at controlling the content–your “work.”

    Apple knows full well that within a short period there will be converters to convert the proprietary iBooks formatted ebook to any and every other ebook format, especially epub 3. So, that’s going to happen and apple can’t stop it however, they can stop the content from being uploaded/sold on another ebook store. Otherwise, this EULA makes no sense whatsoever.

    It seems clear to me that apple is attempting to ensure a complete locking of your “work” exclusive with them–not just the iBook formatted work but the entire “work.” They need a way to build iBooks ONLY and the only way to do that is to exert some control over the content–because you were stupid enough to upload to apple’s app store and used iBooks author they will have you–you agreed not to distribute to anyone else. Then when you do, they will simply send a letter to the other company and that company will pull your book–what are you going to do about it? Sue apple? yeah, sure you will. Worse yet, if they deem your book not acceptable it is doa–you can’t do anything with it because you were stupid enough to use iBooks Author and upload to the app store/iBooks and therefore giving apple “exclusive” rights to the “work.”

    INSANE!!!

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