EULA Agree With Me

The iBooks Author EULA has been in the news recently. It has, in fact, bumped Romney and Gingrich out of the headlines and it’s all anyone is talking about. Everywhere. I just received an email from a lovely Nigerian professor who’d like to send me millions of dollars because he fears the iBooks Author EULA will confiscate it from him if he publishes his text book on implementing cold fusion. (Drinks on me at Macworld!) Allow me to scale this mountain of a molehill and defuse this tempest in a teapot.

There is an across the board consensus that the iBooks Author EULA, as currently written, is overly vague and can be understood to apply broadly to any and all content generated by the application. From there commentators fall, roughly, into one of two camps: Restrictions on output are inherently wrong and; The EULA as written will never be enforced. It’s not even that the two camps are in a real disagreement, it’s that one camp is dealing with the facts as they are now while the other is reading into the intent and projecting a better outcome.

I’d like to say that I’ve not seen an argument regarding this EULA that I disagree with but that’s not the case. I will say that I’ve yet to read a well reasoned opinion on the matter that I wholly disagree with. As a matter of personal opinion I believe that the intention of the EULA isn’t to restrict the distribution of text or PDF files generated by iBook Author. As written the EULA does suggest that they are. This should be clarified, as everyone else has already said.

The interesting thing, to me, is in the reactions we’re seeing. Let’s project this EULA issue into the software world and consider it in those terms. A new piece of Apple software has shipped and it exhibits behaviour that the vast majority of the most vocal users find to be faulty. The behaviour is a bug. What do we do?

To me the obvious course of action is to complain loudly about the bug and hope that Apple addresses it. (And file a Radar! Always file a Radar!) But we then get into the issue of intent.

I’m in agreement with Mike Ash and Dan Wineman — intent doesn’t matter when considering the practical implications of the choices that have been made. That said intent does matter if we’re hoping to read the tea-leaves to devine what might be. When examining what we believe to be faulty behaviour the perceived intention is invaluable. It’s the difference between a bug and a feature. A bug we expect to be fixed, a feature we expect to have to live with. Lion inverted scrolling.

I think the issue that hasn’t been addressed that is really at the heart of this is: why is iBooks Author free? The arguments for legally tying the output of iBooks Author to the iBookstore is that the application is free and that through sales of for-profit books Apple will recoup it’s investment. That’s very true and again I don’t disagree with that. My question then is, why does it have to be free? What’s wrong with the old-fashioned model of asking for money for something of value? If Final Cut Pro XII came out for free but required distribution via iCloudVideo would that be acceptable? It strikes me that the good old-fashioned buy-your-tools-and-your-work-is-your-own model works quite well. This change to giving away free tools but locking down (legally) what you can do with them doesn’t sit right with me.

The rebuttal is that there are plenty of tools that are de facto locked to their platforms. That’s true and it’s a good argument. Xcode basically only makes iOS and Mac OS X software. Visual Studio is similarly platform specific. But those are technical limitations, not blunt legal limitations.

My position is that there’s enough laws in place as it stands to prevent competitors implementing the functionality that’d be required to have, say, a Kindle Fire run (experience!) an iBooks Author generated .ibooks file. Now, obviously, I’m not a lawyer so what do I know, but if the future is platform specific content generation tools, locked down with legalese, then I think we’re going in the wrong direction.