How Amazon is using DRM to keep Hachette hostage: Best of the Web

Recently, there’s been a battle waged between online retail giant Amazon and one of the world’s biggest publishers, Hachette.

It’s a battle Cory Doctorow discusses in this article for The Guardian:

For some three weeks now, books from the Hachette publishing group – one of the “big five” publishers who dominate the globe – have been largely unavailable through Amazon.com. Amazon has taken away the pre-order buttons on forthcoming Hachette titles, and current Hachette titles are either not for sale (Amazon helpfully recommends used copies from its reseller network, as well as similar books from competing publishers), or are listed as being out of stock for the next several weeks.

Of course, this raises the question: How did an online book retailer get so much leverage over one of the world’s largest publishers? Especially given that Apple’s iBooks and Google Play, among many others, are more than happy to sell e-books to consumers?

According to Doctorow, the answer lies with digital right management, or DRM. DRM is software that is designed to ensure only the people who have the rights to view a piece of media can.

While the technology was put in place at the insistence of movie, music and book publishers, it is now being used by Amazon to lock Hachette customers into its Kindle e-book platform:

Hachette, more than any other publisher in the industry, has had a single minded insistence on DRM since the earliest days. It’s likely that every Hachette ebook ever sold has been locked with some company’s proprietary DRM, and therein lies the rub.

Under US law (the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act) and its global counterparts (such as the EUCD), only the company that put the DRM on a copyrighted work can remove it. Although you can learn how to remove Amazon’s DRM with literally a single, three-word search, it is nevertheless illegal to do so, unless you’re Amazon. So while it’s technical child’s play to release a Hachette app that converts your Kindle library to work with Apple’s iBooks or Google’s Play Store, such a move is illegal.

The rumours leading up to Google I/O

This week, Google hosts its most important developer conference of the year, known as Google I/O.

Like Apple’s WorldWide Developer Conference, it’s the event at which Android and web developers gather to hear the latest from the tech giant.

The event is also often used to unveil new devices and services, leading to a lot of speculation in the weeks ahead of time about what Google is planning.

Over at Ars Technica, Ron Amadeo has a roundup of the big projects the mobile and online services giant is believed to be working on ahead of this year’s show. Among the hotly rumoured projects, for instance, is a major upgrade to how Android handles apps:

Dalvik, the engine that powers Android apps, is one of the oldest parts of the OS. Google is planning to dump Dalvik and go with a completely new runtime for Android called simply, “Android RunTime” or “ART.”

We aren’t sure what Google’s goals with ART are (it’s probably “speed”). The new runtime shipped as an optional mode in KitKat, but the company hasn’t said much about the project. All that is due to change at I/O, where there will be a session dedicated to ART that should explain what the point of the project is and how it will be better than Dalvik. Interestingly, the session description mentions Google will talk about the “improvements” it has made to the Android Runtime. It’s very easy to interpret that as a new version of ART, which would require a new version of Android, which means a new version of Android will be at I/O.

Even if the rumours don’t all pan out to big announcements at this year’s show, it is interesting to take a look at some of the technologies Google is known to be looking at for the future.

Meet the mobile industry’s most powerful man

When it comes to holding power in the mobile phone industry, few have the influence to tell Samsung what to do.

According to an article in BloombergBusinessweek, that’s precisely what the head of Google’s Android division, Sundar Pichai, recently did:

At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January, Samsung introduced new software for its tablets, called the Magazine UX… Behind the scenes, though, the announcement enraged executives at Google (GOOG), the company that owns and administers Android. Magazine UX hid Google services such as its Play apps store and required Android users and application developers to learn an entirely new set of behaviours for Samsung devices.

Defusing the situation fell to Sundar Pichai, the tactful, tactical new chief of Google’s Android division. Pichai set up a series of meetings with J.K. Shin, chief executive officer of Samsung Mobile Communications, at the Wynn hotel on the Vegas strip, at Google’s offices in Mountain View, Calif., and again in February at the Mobile World Congress convention in Barcelona. Pichai says they held “frank conversations” about the companies’ intertwined fates.

So what kind of man gets to tell Samsung’s JK Shin where to put his magazine? It’s a question answered in Stone’s profile.

Why Elon Musk is terrifying used car salesmen

Finally, by now you’ve probably heard about the Tesla, the all-electric car startup founded by Silicon Valley tech pioneer Elon Musk.

Well, according to Richard Read of The Car Connection, the venture has certainly got one group very nervous: Car salesmen.

One of Tesla’s moves has been to own all of its own car dealerships, bypassing the traditional networks of automobile dealers, while lobbying for the repeal of laws protecting local dealerships and monopolies:

One of the biggest obstacles vexing the startup automaker has been America’s network of state franchise laws, most of which prevent automakers — even small ones like Tesla — from selling directly to consumers.

But CEO Elon Musk and his team of lawyers and lobbyists have slowly been making inroads from coast to coast. And that seems to be making dealer networks nervous — how else to explain the National Automobile Dealers Association’s latest press release, entitled “NADA Launches Major New Initiative to Promote the Benefits of Franchised Auto Dealers”?

According to Read, this has led to the rather unusual situation of having local dealers, through their national lobby group the National Automobile Dealers Association, try to convince lawmakers that car salesmen are actually popular with the public:

In the release, NADA outlines the four biggest benefits of dealer franchises:

  • Price Competition – New-car dealers compete fiercely for business and drive consumer prices down;
  • Consumer Safety – New-car dealers take the side of consumers in warranty and safety recall situations;
  • Local Economic Benefits – New-car dealers create well-paying local jobs and generate significant tax revenue that have a huge impact on local economies; and
  • Added Value – New-car dealers simplify an otherwise complex car-buying experience.

Sure, it might be a tough sell. But surely if a national lobby group made up of car salesmen can’t sell it, no one can!

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