A couple years ago Ubisoft, a video game publisher, under the claims of rampant piracy turned to an always-online form of DRM. For those who do not understand, Digital Rights Management (DRM) can be thought of as an electronic lock that is “supposed” to keep “pirates” from copying and distributing things they did not “buy.” The problem is most times most times when a company thinks of some brilliant way to stop piracy, it usually backfires in some horrible way and has to be removed at a later date. The history of DRM could fill a couple articles for me, but for now I want to stick to this one instance of it. Ubisoft thought they had the solution to stop pirates, their games would only work when an end user was connected to the Internet. The only problem was that Ubisoft (a French company) would be accused of something else.
More on that later.
This past week a history lesson was about to be sprung upon my eyes. Out of the blue a small story about people not understanding technology was seen in the wilds of my RSS feed. I do not know why, but I chose to read the story and the cyclical nature of humanity was before me. Much to my surprise those words from my days in public education came back: Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.”
Thus this week a new word was born, ladies and gentleman, children of all ages, I present you the dawn of the: TWITMOB!
[twitmob] Show IPA noun, adjective, verb, twitmobbed, twit-mob·bing.
1. a disorderly or riotous crowd of online twitter people.
2. an online twitter crowd bent on or engaged in lawless electronic violence.
3. any group or collection of twitter persons or things.
4. the common twitter people; the twitter masses; twitter populace or multitude.
Last week a group of authors took to twitter to express outrage over a website they claimed was pirating their material. While details are sketchy at the moment, two authors started a modern day rolling ball of witch hunting. As the nature of the quickness and real time of online sites like Twitter, the ball got rolling very quickly. Within a few hours, a web site was shut down without as much as a whimper from the site owner. Turns out he was blindsided by the deluge of hate e-mails he was received. The web hosting company that hosted the site was also deluged with hate e-mails, but these were of the legal kind. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA,) Cease and Desist (C&D) notice kind that demanded the site be taken down for illegal activity.
After the dust was cleared it was proven that the site in question did nothing wrong and was ambushed all over authors who could not take the time to read contracts they had signed.
LendInk (the web site in question,) provided a simple service to users, lending E-Books. E-Readers like Kindle and Nook have the ability for the user to lend their books to another user for a period of time (usually 14 days.) The book is lent similar to how it works in real life; you lend the E-Book and lose access to the book until the lending period is over. This is the electronic form of the library. Lendlnk provided a way of letting users on the internet meet up virtually and swap books through Amazon and Barnes & Nobles respective services. Another interesting note to make is that authors having a choice of making their books lendable or not through contract.
Amazons terms state that “Kindle books can be loaned to another reader for a period of 14 days. The borrower does not need to own a Kindle—Kindle books can also be read using our free Kindle reading applications for PC, Mac, iPad, iPhone, BlackBerry, and Android devices. Not all books are lendable—it is up to the publisher or rights holder to determine which titles are eligible for lending. The lender will not be able to read the book during the loan period. Books can only be loaned once, and subscription content is not currently available for lending.”
That is the major take away from this lesson: Read contracts you sign.
Instead of reading their contracts a few authors took to Twitter in outrage with legal guns blazing. The truth did not matter, they were going to right the imaginary wrong they had created. Even after the twitmob had dissolved, some are still defending what they had done.
But once a few hair-on-fire, sky-is-falling types of indie authors got wind of LendInk and found their books listed there, they jumped right to the WRONG conclusion that this was some kind of illegal Napster for ebooks and went on the warpath. Rather than take a few moments to read the site’s FAQ, where the specifics of the site and the legality of it were addressed clearly and in detail, these authors immediately started posting warnings to all their author friends about this new ebook pirating site, LendInk. It became an online game of ‘telephone’, with well-meaning people re-posting incorrect claims about LendInk, and the claims about LendInk getting more distorted as they were passed around and new posters added their take on the situation. In a matter of just THREE DAYS, it went from an online campaign of spreading hysterical misinformation to LendInk being shut down.
It is not surprising but this whole episode brought to my attention how humanity, still, remains the same. We jump to conclusions without thought, we rather point fingers then take a moment to ponder. It made me also realize the damage how much a few moments of rage can cause. I am not infallible, neither is anyone who reads this article, we can all give into blind casuistry. That one moment of lost clarity is going to cost the authors in the end. All because they could not take the time to question, what they thought was wrong. Instead, they came guns blazing, shooting first and asking questions later, with the assumption that collateral damage was okay.
I think we all can forgive other human beings for making mistakes. The problem here is we still have those who do not understand the damage their actions have done to their own careers and also one of the LendInk owner, who is a disabled Army Veteran.
Going back to Ubisoft, that great DRM plan they had led to them hitting a snag they never saw. Or in the eyes of one commentator: