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The tool-maker is the distributor

Apple’s new iBook creation software has a condition in the license agreement that disallows you from selling any work created using the software except via Apple (which will be subject to a further unspecified agreement). More details here.

Apple, in this EULA, is claiming a right not just to its software, but to its software’s output. 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.

There is a lively discussion on Hacker News about this. It has been pointed out, quite rightly, that Apple has a perfect right to do this, and users are free to use other software to write books. There is also an argument that since iBooks made with iBooks Author contain Apple’s copyrighted code (Javascript, HTML), and is technically a derivative work of Apple’s copyrighted material, and therefore this is no different from licenses like GPL or content that is covered under a creative-commons-free-for-noncommerical use license.

I find this argument valid but on very thin ice. If an author creates a whole textbook, including the text, images, and interactive content like quizzes and instruction flow I’d say the originality of Apple’s embedded code is small compared to the author’s contribution. If someone writes an original play that uses a copyrighted image as the ellipsis sign, technically it is a derivative work and the copyright holder of the ellipsis sign has a right to dictate terms. On an ethical level, I wouldn’t support such a claim being enforced.

What worries me is the slippery slope. If this is Apple’s strategy going forward, I wonder if we can expect them to eventually assert their rights over the output of software like Pages, Garageband, Aperture or Final Cut.

Or even worse, expect them to assert distribution rights or monetary claims over any software that we write on Macs. I was considering buying a Macbook this year for personal coding projects, and this piece of news is sending a few chills down my spine.

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