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Apple Embroiled in iBook Publishing Controversy

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Yesterday, Apple (AAPL) bestowed a gift to the legions of students with sore backs and empty wallets and announced the iBooks Author app. Billed as a replacement for the heavy and expensive stacks of hardcover textbooks that students are forced to purchase each year, the free Mac app will allow textbook authors to publish interactive and updatable content -- complete with image galleries, video, comment sections, etc. And a boon to the author, the e-books can be published directly from the app into Apple's iBookstore.

But therein lay the controversy.

According to iBook Author's end user license agreement, if an author wishes to charge a fee for a work created in the app, he is restricted to Apple's iBookstore for its release. The work is wrapped in a restrictive DRM, so that means no Amazon (AMZN), no Barnes & Noble (BKS), and no Google eBookstore (GOOG). As stated in the agreement, in bold:

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.

Then later in the agreement:

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.

After reading this, software engineer Dan Wineman called it an act of "unprecedented audacity."

"It's akin to Microsoft (MSFT) trying to restrict what people can do with Word documents, or Adobe (ADBE) declaring that if you use Photoshop to export a JPEG, you can't freely sell it to Getty." Wineman added, "As far as I know, in the consumer software industry, this practice is unprecedented."

Over on ZDNet, Ed Bott referred to the provision as "mind-bogglingly greedy and evil." Noting Apple's final eyes on a paid work and the potential for it to be rejected, Bott laid out a potentially disheartening situation.

"The nightmare scenario under this agreement? You create a great work of staggering literary genius that you think you can sell for 5 or 10 bucks per copy. You craft it carefully in iBooks Author. You submit it to Apple. They reject it."

As Bott noted in an update, while the final product is unusable following that rejection, the content can still be exported as unformatted text where it can then be retooled. But of course, you wouldn't be able to use iBooks Author if you're looking to sell the work through other distributors.

But as Wineman and Bott are tripped up over the restrictions in the agreement -- the latter called the program and its output "an absolute nonstarter" -- others don't consider the stipulations to be that troublesome.

On his site, iOS developer David Smith wrote that he doesn't see the fuss and compared iBooks Author to creating an iPhone app in Xcode.

"When I sit down and create an app in Xcode for the iPhone there is a single legal avenue by which I can then make it available to the world, the App Store. Apple has built up an immense developer support infrastructure around the App Store, I imagine paid for by the revenues they get from app sales." He added, "This basic premise has become part-and-parcel of what software creation in the mobile space looks like."

Smith ended the post by saying, "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. Which seems entirely fair to me." (Emphasis his.)

Both sides have valid points. Apple has a massive distribution network with millions of supported customers, providing authors with a huge audience already built in. Then again, authors are limited to just that audience and risk having their work rejected by a fickle Cupertino employee.

Sounds as if authors are getting a crash course on what it's like to be a developer.

(See also: iPhone Can't Match Android's Versatility, Says Steve Wozniak and iPhone Users See a Brighter Future Than BlackBerry Users, Says Study)

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