Closing thoughts on Apple's greedy, "crazy evil" iBooks license

Closing thoughts on Apple's greedy, "crazy evil" iBooks license

Summary: This week's discussion of Apple's new license agreement for its iBooks Author program was what the State Department calls a "full and frank exchange of ideas." If you missed the debate, here's your chance to get a view from all sides.


See this follow-up post: Apple's lawyers clean up the sloppy iBooks Author EULA

Well, that was certainly a vigorous discussion. In diplomatic terms, this week's online debate over the iBooks Author license agreement was what the State Department calls "a full and frank exchange of ideas."

At least no one sent out Predator drones.

If you missed the brouhaha, here's how to catch up. I started it with this post last week:

And followed up with two more:

John Gruber of Daring Fireball has taken the opposition position in this great debate. I've included links to all his posts here, but if you only have time to read one, this is the most thorough and recent:

If you don't understand the cryptic headline, that's a lyric from the Beastie Boys song, "Sabotage." Get it? (For you kids, the Beastie Boys are white kids from Brooklyn who made hip-hop history back when ... ah, just Wikipedia it.)

Gruber's post is a very thorough, thoughtful breakdown of the issues from a perspective that's very different from mine. It's worth reading.

And then Bill McCoy, executive director of the IDPF, took to his personal blog to offer his take:

That post is also thoughtful and well written, although it should be read with the understanding that an executive director at a trade and standards association has two top job responsibilities: cat herding and puppy soothing. (Not that I want in any way to minimize the importance of those skills in getting standards ratified.)

So let's talk about that license agreement.

"I agree with the greedy but not the evil..."

Here's Gruber's direct response:

I agree with Bott that Apple is being competitive here, but disagree that it’s an example of embrace/extend/extinguish. Put another way, over the weekend Bott called the iBooks Author EULA “mind-bogglingly greedy and evil”; I agree with the greedy, but not the evil or the mind-bogglingliness.

And later:

My “this is Apple at its worst” remark was regarding the EULA. That criticism still stands.

So mainly we disagree on the degree of badness.

"Sure seems crazy evil"

Meanwhile, Bill McCoy says all the diplomatic things you expect an executive director of a trade association to say, which makes it especially eyebrow-raising when he says Apple's restrictive licensing terms "sure seems crazy evil to me now."

That blunt assessment is tempered with a "but it could all work out just fine" coda. Here's the quote in its full context:

[Apple's] restrictive licensing of iBooks Author created content arguably helps keep their 1.0 proprietary format from getting "out in the wild" so in that light could even be viewed (OK, somewhat optimistically) as a pro-standards move. It sure seems crazy evil to me now, but could well end up being viewed warmly in hindsight, if Apple loosens up the licensing terms as they move to standard EPUB format.

And if Apple doesn't loosen up its licensing terms? I guess then it remains "crazy evil."

Here's what's crazy about it. Apple's license for iBooks Author attempts to assert rights on any work you generate using that software. That's pretty much unprecedented. Usually software licenses talk about who is eligible to buy a particular edition (student discounts, for example) or how many devices a program can be used on, or whether there are different usage terms (and prices) for personal or noncommercial use.

But this is different. Apple has the final word on how you can use any product you make with this program, if their EULA is to be believed.

And there's no question it's about the money. It's not about security or reliability or user experience. Consider this completely hypothetical example:

I write a training manual aimed at medical professionals, helping them understand how to work with insurance claims and paperwork. It's fully interactive and works exclusively with iPad. My clients in doctor's offices nationwide love it.

I think it's worth $100 a copy and want to sell it directly to my clients, two and three copies at a time. Apple says I can only do that through their store, while paying them a 30% commission.

I submit it to the iBooks store and Apple turns it down, for whatever reason they choose, or for no reason at all.

I now cannot sell my interactive book at any price. I can give it away. I can (at not inconsiderable expense and effort) turn it back into static ebook format that can be read on an iPad, but all my interactivity is gone. Apple says I can't sell it anywhere without their blessing.

I think that's unfair, and although they hem and haw around the issue, my worthy adversaries seem to agree.

Meanwhile, on a side note...

Several people pointed to Microsoft Office Home and Student Edition as an example of a program whose license is equally onerous. But it's a bad comparison.

Microsoft's terms and conditions for that Office version limit it to personal, noncommercial use. It's not at all uncommon for software companies to impose this type of condition.

Historically, software licenses dictate how and where you can use a software program. Apple's own terms and conditions for the Mac App Store and the iTunes App Store differentiate between "personal, non-commercial" use and use by "a commercial enterprise or educational institution." (Search for "PRODUCT USAGE RULES.")

Many, many programs for Windows and Mac allow for free (or low-cost) usage at home but require a more expensive license for commercial purposes.

  • If you have a WordPress blog, you get the Akismet antispam plugin free for personal use, but you have to pay for a commercial API key if you use the plugin on a money-making blog.
  • The Ninite Updater program (which I highly recommend for Windows users) is $9.99 per machine per year for personal use. For businesses, there's a separate product, Ninite Pro, which costs $20 to $185 per month, depending on how many users are on your network
  • VMWare offers an academic program where labs can get access to a huge range of software for a low annual subscription fee. But the license specifically says the software "may not be used for any purpose outside of instructional, research and personal use."

Those types of terms are common, but note that none of them attempt in any way to assert rights over the output file.

Update: Some commenters still don't get it. Let me try an example. Let's say you write a best-selling book, of which you sell 100,000 copies from your own website for $10 each. A million bucks in revenue.

Under Apple's license, all of those copies are in violation of the license agreement. You owe them $300,000 in commissions plus whatever damages they can extract from you.

If you wrote that book using Microsoft Office Home and Student Edition, you owe Microsoft the difference between the $129 you paid for the "private, noncommercial" software and the $299 commercial version. That's $170.

300 grand. 170 bucks.

You get it yet?

That's where the current discussion begins and ends. And whether you think it's "crazy evil" or "Apple at its worst" or "mind-bogglingly greedy," there does seem to be general agreement that it isn't right.

Topics: CXO, Apple, Software, IT Employment

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  • RE: Closing thoughts on Apple's greedy,

    It's not just iBooks.... Apple is greedy and evil in all aspects. Just compare their "1984" commercial to their modern day methods. Hypocritical doesn't even begin to describe Apple.
    • RE: Closing thoughts on Apple's greedy,

      @Narg they are thriving on the base of maniacal frenzied supports. reminds me of nazi germany. hitler had similar tactics.
      • RE: Closing thoughts on Apple's greedy,

        @augustus_rome <br>That comment's 5 years out of date. These days you realize you're referring to the general public right?
    • Come again?

      @augustus_rome<br><br>Maniacal frenzied supports? Nazi Germany? Where are you coming from?<br><br>Are these maniacal and frenzied supports another name for Apple adherents? Are the "maniacal frenzied" supporters (presumably) the same types (now German) who were decimated by unemployment and inflation, without a ray of hope in sight, and a step away from starvation before Hitler came to their support? <br><br>How are the two groups even alike, let alone in tandem to an iBooks discussion? Except to prove it doesn't take long for Godwin's Law (of Nazi Analogies) to rear its silly head when one doesn't bother to use their own.<br><br>And what are the similar Hitlerian "tactics" you're referring to? If you want Machiavellian, look no further than what the multinationals do on a daily basis with their litany of greed driven shenanigans (unless that's what you mean). At least Hitler was up front and candid about his aims and objectives. Can you say the same for the one-worlders, or your own Federal government for that matter?
      • RE: Closing thoughts on Apple's greedy,

        Very good comments. One word I would change, "decimated" to devastated or similar word.

        Decimated means:
        1: to select by lot and kill every tenth man of
        2: to exact a tax of 10 percent from <poor as a decimated Cavalier ??? John Dryden>

        Being as decimated indicates a tenth of something, we could say it is partial to the decimal system.

        Though folks use decimated it is used incorrectly. Same as using, OK, for okay. OK, is the abbreviation for Oklahoma.
      • You must be an English teacher

        @BubbaJones <br>[i]One word I would change, "decimated" to devastated or similar word. [/i]<br><br>But I have to agree with your usage precision. Decimated sometimes nuances into devastated territory in looser knit parlance, but as you point out is still technically incorrect. So I'm one word smarter today. ;) <br><br>Chops
      • Your too good BubbaJones_


        While your command of the English language appears to be impeccable, you get what appears to being a failing grade in understanding common speak. While I understand that many people who relish the spoken and written word live in some fear that common speak will be the ruin of English, perhaps other languages as well, I don't think you have a tremendous amount to worry about.

        Language changes relatively slowly so most people, including you, will have tons of time to get used to new and slightly different ways many older words will be put to. Its not as if someone is going to just come along and decimate the English language over night. Although you might feel devastated by the end results years from now.
      • RE: Closing thoughts on Apple's greedy,

        It's not even an issue of common speak, but rather an issue of looking at a better dictionary.
        Webster -
        3. a : to reduce drastically especially in number <cholera decimated the population>
        b : to cause great destruction or harm to <firebombs decimated the city> <an industry decimated by recession>

        While OK is the state code for Oklahoma, much earlier than Oklahoma's usage, OK originated from a facetious version of "all correct," "oll korrect." Therfore OK is probably a more proper way of writting "okay" than "okay." After all, "okay" is merely a phonetic representation of the abbreviation. But since the usage of the word okay is informal, I doubt any one should be up in arms over the use of "ok," "okay," or "okie dokie."
    • RE: Closing thoughts on Apple's greedy,

      @Narg - in the end, if it's too expensive, restrictive and business unfriendly, it will just be another shunned standard.
      terry flores
    • RE: Closing thoughts on Apple's greedy,

      @Narg - In the end, it is up to Apple to make whatever terms feasible for actual business. If the terms are too restrictive, costly or unworkable in practice, it will just become another shunned standard.
      terry flores
  • RE: Closing thoughts on Apple's greedy,

    Ed, what does the Office one mean when it says: "Not for commercial use"? Any reasonable person would say that you're not allowed to use the output for commercial gain, right?

    I can't see the difference.
    • Read the license agreements

      @jeremychappell <br><br>You could, in theory, be accused of misusing the software and ordered to pay a license fee. But Microsoft does not assert ANY right over your output. You can sell it anywhere you want.<br><br>These are different terms. Dramatically different.

      I have updated the post with an example.
      Ed Bott
      • Sorry, Ed

        Saying you can't use your output to make money IS asserting a right over your output. You can spin until you fall over dizzy, but anyone with half a brain can figure out that MS telling you what you can and can't use your output for (I.e. selling it) is technically no different than what Apple is doing with iBooks author.
      • RE: Closing thoughts on Apple's greedy,

        @Ed Bott Has Apple EVER asserted these rights?<br><br>The point is iOS is a very different target than a system like a PC or a Mac. It is more like a games console, you make content for it, and you need to go through Apple to distribute it (like Microsoft do with the Xbox, yes I know there is a "low fat" development system where you can distribute without this, like there are "web apps" on iOS...)<br><br>You're trying to draw a distinction where none exists.

        So what about the dev kit for XBox - that not a parallel then?
      • RE: Closing thoughts on Apple's greedy,

        @baggins_z<br><br>you still don't get the point. <br><br>MS *NEVER* asserting *ANY* right over *ANY* of your output, EVER. You can misuse, let's say Home Edition of Word, and sell your output file, but the maximum "damage" MS can claim is only the part of misusing the software which is $170. If MS were asserting the same rights over your output files like Apple, the claim for the violation of such agreement is $300,000 in court. Big a-- different!<br><br>Seriously, use the whole brain. You'll need both math and imagination brain to figure this out.
      • RE: Closing thoughts on Apple's greedy,

        @baggins_z Last time I looked the fines for running software that wasn't properly licences was ??10,000 per violation, not the price of the software (I'm talking about in the UK here).
      • RE: Closing thoughts on Apple's greedy,

        @Ed Bott

        Why fault Apple business plan, anyone has a choice not to sell in Apple's iBppk store and if an author can do it on his own he should do so.

        Do you really think when MS market place or whatever is ready and selling though it will not be taxed by MS.

        Do you really think all publishers who do publishing wouldn't get a cut of the book and maybe is is more than Apple.

        Apple gives everyone an equally opportunity to make money and if you think you should not give them a cut then don't sell your master piece through the iBook store. And don't use their software to do your book.

        Btw this software from Apple is FREE whereas MS stuff has to be purchased.

        When Ed Bott set up his telco he will give everything away for nothing because he deemed making money is obscene and evil plus being greedy.
      • RE: Closing thoughts on Apple's greedy,


        But is that violation penalty paid to the government or to MS?
      • I Think you are wrong

        @Ed Bott
        Although you wouldn't have to pay the percentage apple requests of anything sold on an iPad/iPod/iPhone (a totally different issue). You would not get away with the difference in price ether. Illegal use of software carries a serious fine of up to $150,000 per copy of software as well as other legal fines and even jail time.

        The bottom line is that if you profit from the ecosystem Apple has created Apple wants to profit as well. Much like licensing deals for making games on Xbox, or selling books on Kindle. The only real issue is the question of compatibility with other devices. Which the market will determine how that fight will end up.

        NOTE: You could have written that book in ePub format and avoided any issues. But you may only sell 10,000 books because it is not as compelling or easy to find. So you might end up loosing $600,000 in potential profit because you didn't take advantage of what Apple offers.
      • RE: Closing thoughts on Apple's greedy,

        In the U.S., misuse of a license is not synonymous with IP infringement. So if you're using one license when you should be using another, you've violated a contract, a private law, not the law in general.
        Now, using software you haven't paid any right to use is a different matter.
        Apple's terms are ridiculous.