A quick moan about Apple's iBooks

I don't have an 'e-book' (like the Kindle). I don't have an iPad (even though I'd like one). But I do have an iPhone. And even though it's perhaps not the best device for it, I do like reading the occasional book on it - mainly during my commute to work.

The thing that reading books on a mobile device offers (over good old paperbacks) is pure convenience. I always have my phone with me, whereas I tend to leave books on tables and forget them. You can also carry more than one around with you, without breaking your back. Finally, I find that with reading books digitally, it's much easier to pick up where you left off (important when you're only reading in short bursts), rather than having to work out which dog-eared page is the right one.

On the iPhone, I used to use the Stanza app for reading, but recently I've switched to the Apple-designed iBooks app. Stanza is good, and in some ways has a better reading interface - but iBooks seems to sync in with iTunes a bit more elegantly, and allows you to import PDFs too, which can be useful.

Mainly, I've been reading out-of-copyright books, which are available for free via the Book Store built-in to iBooks, or which can be imported (in the ePub format) from websites like FeedBooks (the main advantage of which is that they include a nice cover image).

One of the neat features of iBooks is that you can 'highlight' bits of text in a way that emulates fluorescent highlighter pens. You can also use the standard selector tool to temporarily highlight a section of text, from which you can do certain actions.

For out-of-copyright books, these actions include 'copy' - which lets you then paste the text into an e-mail, blog post, or any other application. Pretty useful.

Annoyingly, and infuriatingly, this option has been deliberately removed from all in-copyright books.

Now, I can understand why Apple's licensing agreements with authors and publishers might sensibly restrict people from copying the whole book, or even huge chunks of it. The ePub files are 'protected' with Apple's Digital Rights Management encryption - and whilst I don't agree with the limits that DRM places upon legitimate consumers (I couldn't, for example, read a book purchased with Apple on a Kindle, even if I had one) - I can see why publishers might demand it for the time being.

However, restricting people's ability to copy even very short passages out of an in-copyright book is completely non-sensical. This kind of short quotation is totally covered by 'fair use', and no court in its right mind would find it to be a copyright infringement. Given that Apple's Book Store also includes textbooks and classic literature, the lack of ability to copy makes these pretty useless if you want to be able to reference them in any kind of academic review or homework.

Put simply, the lack of ability to do any kind of copying at all from any book purchased from Apple's Book Store is completely insane, and the company should be put under pressure to reverse this decision immediately.

In the meantime, the reason that I wanted to be able to copy in the first place was to be able to share this delightful passage from Russell T Davies from the foreward to the Hitchhikers's Guide To The Galaxy, which felt particularly interesting in the context of reading it on a screen.

Given that I couldn't copy it, I've had to re-type it all out again by hand. So enjoy.

"Just a few years ago, I was buying a house. The owner showed me round. I looked at the bookshelves, like you do. And there it was. The original paperback. The wet neon. I picked it out, and just smiled; the man smiled back. We didn't need to say anything, but it was still there, that connection between strangers, almost thirty years later. Something we once loved, and love now, in the shape of a book. Maybe eBooks are going to take over, one day, but not until those whizzkids in Silicon Valley invent a way to bend the corners, fold the spine, yellow the pages, add a coffee ring or two, and allow the plastic tablet to fall open at favourite page."