[tt] [FoRK] Book guillotining - spine removal for amateurs

Luis Villa <luis at tieguy.org> on Tue Oct 16 15:58:59 PDT 2007

(IANAL, etc., etc.)

On 10/16/07, Stephen D. Williams <sdw at lig.net> wrote:
> By the rights clarified in Universal
> City Studios v. Sony ( summarized nicely at:
> http://w2.eff.org/IP/P2P/MGM_v_Grokster/betamax_20th.php ), I feel that
> I am entirely within my rights to "time shift" a book to bits.

Sony (the Betamax case) didn't establish that it was legal to use a
VCR; it established that it was legal to *sell* a VCR despite the fact
that it very well might then be used for illegal purposes. To the
extent Sony said anything about the legality of the uses of the VCR,
that is dicta.

Note generally that there is very little law on the legality of things
like this; frankly, no one thinks it is worthwhile to sue you just for
copying, so no one really knows if it is legal or not, but that
doesn't mean it is legal. (Under the strict letter of the Copyright
Act, a judge would be almost obligated to find it illegal, IMHO.)

I believe the RIAA has focused their in-court arguments on
distribution, rather than copying, while still maintaining that
copying is illegal:


> What is
> the minimum standard of care that I have to exercise for: backups,
> archives, sharing with the family, loaning, etc.?  Will I need to create
> or adopt DRM just to make sure that I can fulfill my obligations with
> minimum effort?  If I adopt some kind of DRM, does that mean that I can
> create my own loaning library on the Internet for family, friends, or
> even the public?  Is there a fundamental legal reason that trusting
> people who agree to abide by a trust-based DRM system isn't enough
> "reasonable care" to avoid liability?  After all, a physical library has
> to trust that borrowers won't abuse copyright by photocopying, etc. and
> they incur no liability to take any measures to avoid this.
> Should I keep the spines, like old crusty skeletons, to prove that I
> disposed of the physical source?  Photograph myself with the books?
> Keep my archive of receipts and make the other party prove that the
> receipt is not present?  Simply point out that people give me books?
> Should I include a certificate in the scan that it is part of my library
> and based on a book I own?

The relevant part of the copyright act says that you can't distribute
the work 'to the public.' Like the above, there is very little case
law on what distributing 'to the public' is- usually it is pretty
obvious; either you are or you aren't, so shades of gray like
'distributing only to friends and family' is almost completely
undefined. There is some related case law (when talking about
'performing' works to the public), but that is also clear as mud.

Your best bet is probably to rely on good faith of friends and family
not to distribute widely and to stay small. If you become high-profile
enough to go to court, you *might* win (EFF would love to represent
you, probably) but it'll be expensive, time-consuming, etc. even if
you do win. And if you lose... well, copyright law is pretty broken on
the damages front. Not good.

[I'd give advice on how to maximize your chances of winning, but (1) I
don't think it would change much (2) that would definitely be Legal
Advice in ways that the rest of this is not and (3) I'm not very
confident about the details of this area of law yet, so I'm afraid it
wouldn't be very good advice yet anyway. On the plus side, I think
maybe you've given me an idea to write a note on.]

> > smaller parts so that I am not
> > carrying the entire tomb around all the time:)
> Tome I hope. ;-)

Dead knowledge, so... :) (Seriously... in 15-20 years our kids will
look at any textual knowledge that isn't in some way wiki-like as
utterly bizarre and incomprehensible. This notion of 'editions' of
books, that are updated only occasionally, will seem very broken.)


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