Friday, 31 October 2003

Amazon.com "blocks" printing of page images (not)

In an e-mail message to Authors Guild members also posted on the organization's Web site, the Author's Guild says today that "Amazon.com has, at least for the moment, disabled the print function on its new "Search Inside the Book" program. We view this as an important development." Amazon.com's claims are also reported in this story from the Associated Press .

It would be an important development, if it had happened, or if it was even possible. But it hasn't, and it isn't.

Amazon.com has "disabled the print function" only of certain versions of certain Web browsers, on certain platforms, using (buggy) browser-specific JavaScript. As a copy-protection mechanism, that's a pathetic joke. (Any attempt to write JavaScript that isn't buggy and browser-specific sometimes seems to be a bit of a joke. But that's another story.)

On Windows, for example, in my favorite browser, Opera , all I have to do to save each book page image as a .jpg (stripped of all of the surrounding Amazon.com content on the Web page), is alternate-click and select "save image" from the context menu. I can then view or print the page image in any desired program -- or, if desired, "share" the page image file or folder through a peer-to-peer system.

(Hmmm... maybe this will prompt everyone who wants free e-books to switch from MSIE to Opera. That would be a good side effect -- but that's not worth destroying the possibility of remuneration for writing.)

It doesn't matter what technology Amazon.com uses: anything that can be displayed on screen can be captured with a screen-capture program, saved to any desired storage medioum, and distributed as widely as anyone likes.

The Authors Guild also reports that, "At least one student is already bragging that he used the system to print out what he needed, when others, to their chagrin, had bought the book."

Make no mistake: this isn't a "search" program. This is a giveaway by Amazon.com of e-books and e-excerpts of books to which Amazon.com doesn't own the rights. In other words, thievery. Let's see if publishers treat Amazon.com the same way they treat individual file-sharers accused of unauthorized electronic distribution of copyrighted works.

[Addendum, 1 November 2003: In a brief follow-up, after I sent their reporter a copy of this posting, the Seattle P-I reports on the continued vulnerability of book pages displayed through Amazon.com. But the P-I still overstates Amazon.com's "copy protection" by saying, "Pages can't be printed when visitors use Microsoft's Internet Explorer or Netscape's Navigator browsers." They can't be printed using those browsers' "Print" commands, but they can still be printed using the "Print Screen" key or any screen capture utility.]

[Further addendum, 3 November 2003: FriedEgg posts at Ars Technica that it's even more stupid and easily defeated than JavaScript: Amazon.com is trying to "prevent" printing through a .css file -- as though they'd never heard of user style sheets, of which FriedEgg posts a sample to override the image print blocking. (Isn't that the whole point of cascading style sheets?) Is this the first recorded instance of .css-based "copy protection"? For all I know, they'll be using something different, but equally ineffective, tomorrow. It still won't work.]

Link | Posted by Edward on Friday, 31 October 2003, 16:13 ( 4:13 PM) | TrackBack (0)
Comments

I can simply drag the images to the desktop. What they seem to have disabled, as far as I was able to determie, is that the image doen't print for me when I simply print the web page in Safari. But -- um -- if I was trying to actually read the book, why would I do that? Dragging the image to the desktop and then printing makes more sense anyway.

Posted by: Kathryn Cramer, 4 November 2003, 07:31 ( 7:31 AM)
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