Tech bloggers and columnists are having a freakout over Apple’s newly introduced iBooks Author, a program that allows authors to format e-books using interactive images, music, videos, and spoken recordings. It was designed largely for the textbook industry, and offers potential that no existing e-book format comes close to at the moment.
It is also free.
So why the freakout? Because the EULA (End User Licensing Agreement) stipulates that the format is proprietary, and that if a user wants to profit from that format, said user must profit through Apple’s e-book store and nowhere else.
Apple is not asserting ownership of content, it’s asserting ownership of a proprietary format. Writers will not write in iBooks Author. They will write in Scrivener, Pages, Word, whatever, and then import that text into iBooks Author in order to format it for publishing in Apple’s store. The text will always belong to the author. The presentation of that text, as produced with this program, will have a restriction: either sell it in Apple’s store, or give it away for free.
In essence, Apple is saying, “Here is a program that will enable you to create interactive layouts using media forms in ways that no other program currently allows. We are giving you that program for free. Anything you format with this free program, you can give away for free in turn. But if you want to profit off something you format with our free program, then we want a share of those profits.”
This doesn’t seem unreasonable to me. It apparently does to a lot of other folks. A typical example of the pundit backlash can be found at ZDNet, where the headline “Apple’s mind-bogglingly greedy and evil license agreement” tells you right away what you’re in for.
The author starts out by quoting another pundit, who writes:
It’s akin to Microsoft trying to restrict what people can do with Word documents, or Adobe declaring that if you use Photoshop to export a JPEG, you can’t freely sell it to Getty.
This is a false equivalence. Word and Photoshop are not free programs. They are not being distributed worldwide, free of charge, for anyone to use who wants to.
The ZDNet author goes on to claim that if an author writes “a work of staggering literary genius,” formats it in iBooks Author, and has it rejected by Apple, that author is then “out of luck” because this work can’t be sold elsewhere. No, that author can then lay out that same work of staggering literary genius in .mobi, .epub, .pdf and any other format they want, using any number of other formatting programs, and sell it wherever they want. (Note: the author updated his post to walk this back a bit, while complaining about the difficulty of maintaining multiple layouts for multiple formats. You mean like e-book authors do right now when they output their text in multiple formats for Kindles, iPads and Nooks?)
The only way this EULA would be as “mind-bogglingly greedy and evil” as this pundit claims is if it were the only formatting program available in the entire e-publishing industry and all authors were forced to use it.
What is it about Apple that sends so many tech writers over the edge, frothing at the mouth and spouting easily disproven untruths? I’ve never quite understood it.