Law Books

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The fear of piracy has forced many publishers into using unfriendly DRM systems that halts the sharing of stories. With OpenBooks.com readers are free to make copies to send to friends and continue spreading great literature from our rapidly growing indie author community. There are no restrictions on making copies and sharing them with others. In fact, we encourage it.

Which, in view of how restrictive DRM’d e-books can be, sounds good; but when I downloaded one of their e-books, the second page opened like this:

We know that you cannot wait to start reading your new ebook. Our lawyers however insist to inform you that this file is subject to the End-User Agreement (which is quite unusual, so better at least check the main points) and by continuing past this welcome page, you are agreeing its terms.

Like many researchers, I read a whole lot of PDFs, often skimming in places. Like many readers, I don’t customarily study the front matter of books. So it was quite a shock to be told I would be entering into a binding legal agreement by scrolling to the third page. (I’m used to Creative Commons licences, but they relate to making copies available, which is already governed by copyright law.) An odd attempt at establishing a meeting of minds, and a sad thing to see from a proudly DRM-free outlet; replacing digital locks with dubious legal hacks still erodes what we used to be able to expect when sitting down to read a book. Websites’ terms of use are often already unspeakable, and it would be bad if document files went the same way.

Equestrian Domestic Portal

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Note to those seeking to shift debate through changing language: the time to try to replace a term is not after your own government has sponsored legislation using and defining that term.

On Iain Duncan Smith’s bid to replace the term ‘zero-hours contracts’ with ‘flexible-hours contracts’, the Spectator asserts that ‘the term “zero hours” is not defined in legislation’. In fact...

Exclusivity terms unenforceable in zero hours contracts
(1) In this section “zero hours contract” means a contract of employment or other worker’s contract under which—
(a) the undertaking to do or perform work or services is an undertaking to do so conditionally on the employer making work or services available to the worker, and
(b) there is no certainty that any such work or services will be made available to the worker.

With Friends Like These...

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...Euroscepticism hardly needs enemies.

Currently, digital media is released online at different times by separate providers in each of the 28 EU countries. This allows the creators — the television producers and musicians — to charge prices in line with the demand for their product in each individual country, thereby maximising their profits. When the EU’s Digital Single Market makes this illegal, the profits of TV, film and music producers will plummet.

Geographic price discrimination does indeed allow distributors to augment their profits. (Distribution costs, on the other hand, tend to be flattened when your goods need not be physically shipped around, or placed on an actual shelf in a physical shop.) Which means that somebody is paying for those maximised profits, and customers in higher-priced regions are paying disproportionately, so long as distributors contrive to keep sales in lower-priced regions from becoming sales or resales into higher-priced ones.

There are genuine questions to ask about how a more liberal market in digital goods would affect the distribution of (gross) profits and therefore investment; but those questions include a fair few about who is currently paying higher prices and why. Eurosceptic campaigners (who might have been expected to shower less love upon a regional carve-up by vested interests) should be more careful about letting the E.U. look like the sole champion of the beleaguered customer.

Loot

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Heritage gets everywhere. The story of Pillars of Eternity begins when trespass near an ancient and sanctified site arouses a violent reaction from the local population, who have appointed themselves the ruins’ guardians in place of their long-vanished builders; and now the game’s had me wondering what to do about an artefact taken from such ruins, after the ship that was carrying it ran aground.

Engwithan sceptre

Well, the game said this was a black market item; nobody has yet commented on the fact that my elven wizard is walking around with an unprovenanced antiquity and using it in battle. (Also, despite the trouble and expense involved in obtaining it this sceptre turns out to be only a little better than the one I claimed from a defeated necromancer in the local catacombs.)

White Sky Thinking

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An article (login possibly required) has been doing the rounds that tries to anticipate the significance of an altered sky:

A report released last week by the National Research Council called for research into reversing climate change through a process called albedo modification: reflecting sunlight away from earth by, for instance, spraying aerosols into the atmosphere. Such a process could, some say, change the appearance of the sky — and that in turn could affect everything from our physical health to the way we see ourselves.

This last point encompasses both the night sky’s role in creating mythologies, and the sky’s capacity to evoke awe: the culturally various and the ubiquitously human. The visible night sky as a thing of cultural value is something I wrote about in the piece on space heritage I mentioned last year, but since the brief was to examine space exploration I included no discussion of, say, the ethics of light pollution. Perhaps it’s becoming a topic that needs another look.