iBooks Author Rules: Audacious, No Big Deal Or Sign Of Wars To Come?

Hands typing on classic typewriter

Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) didn’t mention this at the Guggenheim yesterday, but post-event the complaints are spreading across the Internet: According to the iBooks Author EULA, anyone who uses iBooks Author to create an e-book can only sell that book in the iBookstore.

“It’s akin to Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) trying to restrict what people can do with Word documents, or Adobe (NSDQ: ADBE) declaring that if you use Photoshop to export a JPEG, you can’t freely sell it to Getty,” writes Mac developer Dan Wineman.

Apple says that e-books created in iBooks Author must be sold exclusively through the iBookstore. Authors can only distribute them elsewhere — through their own websites, for instance — if they are free.

Here’s the official language from the iBooks Author license agreement:

IMPORTANT NOTE: [This is right at the top of the agreement, on the first page]
If you charge a fee for any book or other work you generate using this software (a “Work”), you may only sell or distribute such Work through Apple (e.g., through the iBookstore) and such distribution will be subject to a separate agreement with Apple. …

B. Distribution of your Work. As a condition of this License and provided you are in compliance with its terms, your Work may be distributed as follows:
(i) if your Work is provided for free (at no charge), you may distribute the Work by any available means;
(ii) if your Work is provided for a fee (including as part of any subscription-based product or service), you may only distribute the Work through Apple and such distribution is subject to the following limitations and conditions: (a) you will be required to enter into a separate written agreement with Apple (or an Apple affiliate or subsidiary) before any commercial distribution of your Work may take place; and (b) Apple may determine for any reason and in its sole discretion not to select your Work for distribution.

Some developers and Apple bloggers are upset about the restrictions: “As far as I know, in the consumer software industry, this practice is unprecedented…” Wineman writes. “When I make something myself, no matter what software I use to make it, then — assuming it doesn’t infringe any copyrights — it’s my right to distribute it however I want, in whatever format I choose, for free or not.” John Gruber calls the license agreement “Apple at its worst. Let’s hope this is just the work of an overzealous lawyer, and not their actual intention.”

Others, however, don’t see the big deal. “All Apple is doing with this restriction is saying that if you directly profit from this free tool and platform that we have created, then we deserve our cut,” writes iOS developer David Smith. He thinks it’s more significant that the books can be distributed anywhere if they are free: Apple has “created an avenue for non-commercial distribution that would exclude them entirely. That is actually unprecedented.”

Frederic Lardinois at SiliconFilter notes that the content still belongs to the author: “It’s the book Apple cares about – the final product the program generates, not the content you put into it. iBooks Author is, in the end, just a tool for laying out your content so it looks nice on the iPad. Nobody is stopping any author or publisher from using another tool to sell the same content on another platform.” (If you’re interested in what exactly the *.ibooks file format is, here’s an examination from Baldur Bjarnason.)

Overall, Apple’s rules could be a sign that Apple is gearing up for a battle against Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN) and its own proprietary Kindle format. “Platform wars have come to the book business,” writes academic publishing consultant Joseph Esposito. “There will be some publishers who will develop products for all available platforms (at great expense) and others who will focus on one platform alone (giving up a big piece of the market).” But “the publishers’ dream of creating content once and having it run everywhere is just that, a dream.”

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