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Apple's iBooks Author Software: Just Say No

Buried in the iBooks Author software license agreement is a contractual requirement that gives Apple considerable power over content that you create using the software.
Apple, which five years ago encouraged music labels to sell songs without digital restriction management (DRM), has embraced an alternate means of control: legal restriction management.

The end-user license agreement for iBooks Author, Apple's new tool for creating electronic textbooks, stipulates that works created with the software can be sold only through Apple--free titles are exempted--unless Apple provides written consent. It also states that Apple may refuse to sell electronic textbooks created with its software and that content creators cannot claim lost profits for rejected works.

Apple's decision to rely on contractual rather than technical means to insulate itself from competition has provoked a strong response. Dan Wineman, an iOS developer, posted a scathing condemnation of Apple's software in a blog post on Thursday.

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Even blogger John Gruber, who tends to sympathize with Apple's side of the argument when controversies arise, objected. "This is Apple at its worst," he wrote. "Let's hope this is just the work of an overzealous lawyer, and not their actual intention."

Why the outcry?

"Apple, in this EULA, is claiming a right not just to its software, but to its software's output," Wineman wrote. "It's akin to Microsoft trying to restrict what people can do with Word documents, or Adobe declaring that if you use Photoshop to export a JPEG, you can't freely sell it to Getty. As far as I know, in the consumer software industry, this practice is unprecedented."

In fact, there is precedent: Apple's software for creating ads, iAd Producer, imposes similar terms on its users. Its EULA states that the software may be used for "the sole purpose of creating advertisements for use, display and distribution exclusively on Apple-branded devices via Apple's advertising network." Thus it cannot be used to create ads for distribution on other ad networks.

Mitch Stolz, staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation notes that although such restrictions are not unheard of in high-end design or enterprise software, he finds Apple's approach worrisome. "It's a step in a troubling direction because [the limitations affect] a piece of software that looks like it enables a very general end-user creative process."

He suggests that had Apple been clearer about the software's limitations up front, or had it tied the output files to a proprietary format--iBook files are based on the ePub standard--Apple's restrictions would not have been an issue.

Apple did not respond to a request for comment, but the company has plenty of self-appointed defenders. They argue that Apple is giving away iBooks Author for free and that the company deserves the opportunity to recoup its costs and to set terms as it sees fit.

There's some merit to that position. Content creators are under no obligation to use Apple's software to create iBooks or other digital book formats. You can take it or leave it, and you're probably better off leaving it and using software for which you've paid enough to retain your content ownership rights, such as Adobe InDesign.

If iBooks Author turns out to be the tool you need, use it with the knowledge that although the software is free, it comes at a price.

How one comes by that knowledge is the real issue here: Apple's decision to impose contractual terms to protect its business is upsetting because few people actually read such contracts and because Apple took no steps to make its unusual requirements clear. Had Apple made its software's limitations more obvious to potential users, the outcry would have been less.

As it stands, the lack of disclosure will almost certainly lead to people creating iBooks without realizing that they have surrendered important rights to Apple. Apple requires its developers to provide adequate notice about data collection and privacy practices. It ought to provide such notice in a clear and conspicuous manner when its own rules deviate from expected norms.

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