A Brief Note on “Piracy”

I have been wanting to read Howard Kaylan’s book Shell-Shocked (his autobiography) for some time now, but when it first came out it was only in paperback, and I’m trying not to buy dead-tree books unless I really know I’m going to want to keep them, or unless there will never be an ebook version, because my flat barely has room to move for books.

It’s now available on Kindle, but I don’t have a Kindle, I have a Kobo.
It is, however, available in (DRM’d) ePub form — in the Netherlands.

So in order to buy this book and read it, I have gone to bol.com/nl , gone through the registration and purchase process *in Dutch* (a language which I don’t speak — Google translate doesn’t work well with that site once you get to the purchase pages), and then gone through the process of stripping the DRM from it so it can be read on my GNU/Linux machine.

(It turns out that the book is also available as an epub in Australia, but that doesn’t show up until the second page of Google results, after quite a few illegal downloads).

I did that because I believe that writers should be paid for their work, and I am willing to go to quite some effort to pay for a legitimate, legal, copy of that work. But I can imagine a lot of people being put off by — or actually unable to cope with — that process, and just downloading an illegal copy, for free.

And here’s the thing — there have been times when *I* have done that, because it’s been impossible to find a book any other way. If someone who’s willing to go to the lengths I am to buy legally will sometimes end up going for the illegal option, is it any wonder at all if someone who cares less about the issue will?

It *should not* ever be easier to go for an illegal download than a legal one. I know that territorial deals are an important part of modern publishing, and that there are good reasons behind them, but still, it comes down to this:

If you don’t make your book (or album, or film, or whatever) available in every format, in every territory, and without DRM restrictions, you *will* lose sales. There *is* someone who would have bought your book/album/film who now won’t, not because they don’t want to, but because you won’t let them. Some of those people will ‘pirate’ your product, but it’s not the ‘piracy’ that’s the problem, it’s the fact that you’re preventing those people from giving you money.

Howto: Strip Adobe DRM in Debian GNU/Linux

Please note, before reading any further — the legality of anti-DRM tools varies from country to country. Do not do this if you live in one of those countries where it is illegal.

There are plenty of guides to stripping the DRM from ebooks in Windows or Apple computers, but few out there that tell you how to do it in GNU/Linux. This is doubly annoying, as there are no versions of the most popular ereading DRM tools for GNU/Linux, so even those who are OK with DRM in principle (and most GNU/Linux users aren’t) can’t read the DRM’d versions even if they want to.

I tried doing this two years ago, and hit a number of hideous problems, but things have become a little easier now, so it’s only annoyingly difficult. These steps should work for other Debianesque distributions, like Mint or Ubuntu, but Debian’s the only one I’ve tried it on.

First, the version of WiNE that ships with Debian has a bug which stops Python installing correctly. To get around this, first uninstall WiNE:

(as root)

apt-get purge wine*

Now, go to the repository for the MEPIS distribution. Download the latest versions of WiNE (currently wine_1.4-1mcr8.5+1_i386.deb ) and WiNE-gecko (wine-gecko_1.4.0-1mcr85+2_all.deb ).
Then, as root, in the directory to which you have downloaded the files:

dpkg -i wine_1.4-1mcr8.5+1_i386.deb wine-gecko_1.4.0-1mcr85+2_all.deb

You have now installed a working version of WiNE.

Now, you need to install Python and Pycrypto in WiNE. Handily, these are packaged in this .rar file, which also contains the scripts you’re going to need.

Extract that file somewhere, then go to the directory you’ve extracted it to and, as your normal user, run:

wine msiexec /i python-2.6.2.msi

Follow the instructions in the window that pops up, and this should install python into your home directory, in ~/.wine/drive_c/Python26 . If it installs it somewhere else, change the rest of these instructions appropriately.

Next, as your normal user, still in the directory to which you’ve extracted everything, run:

wine pycrypto-2.1.0.win32-py2.6.exe

Follow the instructions, and this should install pycrypto in your WiNE directory.

Now, you will want to remove the MEPIS version of WiNE and go back to the Debian version, because otherwise you won’t be able to update your system easily, so, as root, run:

apt-get purge wine*

and then

apt-get install wine

You shouldn’t have to run anything else as root from this point on.

Now, get hold of a copy of Adobe Digital Editions. This can be downloaded from here (you have to use a direct download as otherwise Adobe’s website will detect your OS and stop you downloading it).


wine digitaleditions_172.exe

Follow the instructions and ADE will now be able to run under WiNE. Download a DRM’d book and open it — it should open automatically in ADE.

Now run:

mkdir ~/.wine/drive_c/inept/

Copy the files aineptepub.pyw and ineptkey.pyw to the directory you just created.

Now run

cd ~/.wine/drive_c/Python26
wine python.exe C:\\inept\\ineptkey.pyw

A box should pop up saying “key successfully retrieved to adeptkey.der”.

Next run

wine python.exe C:\\inept\\aineptepub.pyw

A box will pop up, asking for an input directory and an output directory. For the input directory, choose “My Digital Editions” from your home directory, and choose anywhere sensible (like your desktop) as the output directory. Within seconds, you should have decrypted copies of all your DRM’d ebooks in the directory you’ve selected, called something like “Quantum_Computing_since_Democritus.jb.decrypted.epub” (assuming the book you decided to try this on is Scott Aaronson’s excellent new book on quantum computing) which can then be loaded in a program like calibre or copied to an ereader.

To decrypt books in future, all you’ll have to do is first open them in ADE and then run:

cd ~/.wine/drive_c/Python26
wine python.exe C:\\inept\\aineptepub.pyw

I suggest putting those two lines in a little shell script to save time.

Note To Publishers: DRM Costs You Money

I recently bought a cheap e-reader from Waterstone’s, and am very happy with it so far. I’ve been using it to read books from Project Gutenberg, papers from the Arxiv, ebooks from Baen, books by Charles Stross and so on.

One thing I will be doing very little of, unfortunately, is buying new books to read on it.

This is not because I don’t want to. I currently buy several new books a month, and one big advantage of using an ereader is that I don’t have to buy as many paper copies of books as before. My flat is fast filling up with large amounts of paper, and being able to fit several thousand books into something smaller than my hand is very convenient.

But the software my ereader uses, Adobe Digital Editions, doesn’t have a GNU/Linux version. This is slightly irritating, as all major ebook devices at the moment are based on GNU/Linux, so it would make sense for the software they use to run on GNU/Linux as well as Windows and Macs, but it’s not the end of the world – I probably wouldn’t want to run that software anyway, as I prefer Free Software (free as in speech, the Adobe software doesn’t cost anything financially). The PDF and ePub readers on my desktop PC aren’t the same software the ereader uses either, and that’s not a problem.

The problem is that the books you can buy from shops that sell in Adobe’s format (such as waterstones.com, whsmith.co.uk and barnes and noble, to take some of the bigger examples) are almost all DRM’d, and require Adobe’s software to be installed on the computer on which you buy it.

This means that if I want to buy a book from Waterstone’s or somewhere, I have three options:
1) Buy the bulky, expensive, paper copy which will take “2-3 weeks” to get to me assuming it’s not lost in the post
2) Install WINE on my desktop, install Adobe Digital Editions in WINE (not supported by Adobe), buy the ebook, then – because you can’t synch a copy of Adobe Digital Editions in WINE with one on an e-reader) run a load of dodgy Python scripts you can find on the internet to (illegally) break the DRM and convert it into a normal ePub file, so I can read it on my e-reader. This involves breaking the law at least once, possibly twice, just to read a book I’ve paid for.
3) Just buy a different book, from the few retailers who do want my money.

It’s not like it’s impossible to release books for e-reading without DRM. The ePub and PDF files I sell through Lulu (and, I’m pretty sure, the Kindle copies of my books too) are all DRM-free. The music industry have already learned this lesson – I can buy any album I want, pretty much, as DRM-free MP3s which will work fine with any computer or device. The result of this is I’ve bought hundreds – possibly thousands – of legal MP3 albums in the last few years (since I’ve had the money, a fast internet connection, and a decent-sized hard drive). Even closer to the publishers’ wallets, I’ve spent the best part of a thousand pounds in the last four years buying audio dramas – fiction – from Big Finish, who again sell their books DRM-free. In fact, between the public domain and enlightened publishers who understand that turning away customers is a bad idea, there are enough books available to keep me reading for years without ever having to decrypt a DRM’d file.

As far as I can see all DRM on ebooks is doing is making life difficult for some customers and turning others away, while any book one could possibly want is freely available on torrent sites. The publishing industry should learn from the music industry, rather than repeating its mistakes.

My Books Now Available For Kindle

I dislike the Kindle, for a variety of reasons, but it’s hugely popular and Amazon sold more ebooks than physical books last year on it, so I’ve made my books available that way.
Please note, I do not have any Kindle software myself, so have no way of checking these files – they’re mechanically converted by Amazon from the same files the print copies of my book were created from, but I cannot vouch for their quality, as they are in a closed format I can’t read.
If anyone buys these and has a problem with them, email me at andrew @ thenationalpep . co . uk and I’ll gladly send you a free replacement as an open-format ePub.
These should be identical in every way to the print, PDF and ePub versions, except they have no ISBN (Lulu provides these free, Amazon doesn’t).
I’m still working with Lulu tech support about the ePub version of Sci-Ence! Justice Leak!, but that should be out shortly.

The Beatles In MonoKindle (US), Kindle (UK)
Sci-Ence! Justice Leak!Kindle (US), Kindle (UK)

These have lending enabled and don’t have any DRM. I would ask, but not demand, that you tell people to buy their own copy rather than copy it for them, as I’m still very far from even having made minimum wage for the time taken to write them and it’s very cheap, but I’m not going to force you to with extra hoops to jump through.

Linkblogging For 13/03/10

Apologies for the radio silence for the last few days (Tilt, I’ll try to get that track to you at some point…) but I’ve been suffering from exhaustion – not just tiredness, but proper unable-to-function-in-any-coherent-way, barely-able-to-stand,unable-to-focus-the-eyes exhaustion – for the last week. For that reason today’s post will just be linkblogging. I hope I’m coherent enough to think tomorrow… I really want to do some comics posts soon…

Via Laurie Penny, whose article on it you should read, The Give Your Vote campaign exists for people who don’t want to vote, because they don’t think it changes anything or whatever. If you don’t want to use your vote, and you sign up, they’ll let you know how one person in a country affected by Britain’s foreign policy would vote had they the option. As someone married to an immigrant who can’t vote, and also as someone who’s often wished he could vote in the USian elections (because their foreign policy dictates ours to such a large extent) I think this is a fantastic idea (assuming the people are picked more-or-less randomly).

Lesswrong have a post on Goodhart’s Law, which states that “once a social or economic measure is turned into a target for policy, it will lose any information content that had qualified it to play such a role in the first place.” Quite fascinating stuff.

Someone – Wesley, I think – posted a link to this in the comments ages ago, but I’ve only just got round to reading it – a free online version of Newtons Sleep, the most recent Faction Paradox novel. I haven’t finished this yet, and won’t be doing an ABC post on it as that’s only for books I read in paper form, but it seems pretty good and I’m about 2/3 of the way through.

The Mindless Ones have another post on the identity of Doctor Hurt, given the extra information in the new issue of Batman & Robin.

A great post on Science News that talks about how “in modern research, false findings may be the majority or even the vast majority of published research claims”, due to unscientific nonsense like meta-analyses. (The basis of much of the talk about ‘evidence based medicine’ by people like Ben Goldacre, who refer to Cochrane reviews as ‘gold standard’, meta-analyses as currently practiced are the least scientific things I’ve ever come across. If anyone’s interested in why, I could forward them a copy of the paper ”Implications and insights for human adaptive mechatronics from developments in algebraic probability theory” (S. Hickey, A. Hickey, L. Noriega 2009), or they could take my word for it, but this article covers *some* of it…)

A judge has ruled that Echostar, a manufacturer of Digital Video Recorders, must send all its customers an ‘update’ that breaks their machines, after it was found to infringe on a patent. Not only does this show the stupidity of software patents, but it also shows why DRM’d, non-free-software devices like the iPad or the Kindle are such bad ideas. If I buy a computer, then I don’t want the manufacturers to have the power to break it any time they feel like it, or any time they’re given the order by a court. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the case, the people who bought that device did so in good faith, and don’t deserve to have it broken .

And finally, Holly has pointed me to this masterpiece – someone’s Amazon reviews of the Mister Men books. “If ‘1984’ or ‘The Trial’ had been a children’s book, Mr Messy would be it. No literary character has ever been so fully and categorically obliterated by the forces of social control. Hargreaves may well pay homage to Kafka and Orwell in this work, but he also goes beyond them. ” Genius.