Last night, I downloaded the ebook of Bruce Sterling’s The Hacker Crackdown to my iPod Touch. With the exception of poor battery life, the iPod Touch running the Stanza ebook reader software is a decent arrangment, even more so because you can easily download books from FeedBooks.
Anyway, opening Bruce Sterling’s book on my iPod this morning while walking to work, I had great pleasure reading his preface to the ebook version and his ‘license’ to the reader to distribute it non-commercially. In case you’re late to this book, as I am, here it is for your enjoyment, too:
Preface to the Electronic Release of THE HACKER CRACKDOWN
October 31, 1993-Austin, Texas
Hi, I’m Bruce Sterling, the author of this electronic book. Out in the traditional world of print, this book is still a part of the traditional commercial economy, because it happens to be widely available in paperback (for a while, at least).
Out in the world of print, THE HACKER CRACKDOWN is ISBN 0-553-08058-X, and is formally catalogued by the Library of Congress as “1. Computer crimes-United States. 2. Telephone-United States-Corrupt practices. 3. Programming (Electronic computers)-United States-Corrupt practices.” ‘Corrupt practices,’ I always get a kick out of that description. Librarians are very ingenious people.
If you go and buy the print version of THE HACKER CRACKDOWN, an action I encourage heartily, you may notice that in the front of the book, right under the copyright sign-“Copyright (C) 1992 by Bruce Sterling”-it has this little block of printed legal boilerplate from the publisher. It says, and I quote:
“No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. For information address: Bantam Books.”
This is a pretty good disclaimer, as such disclaimers go. I collect intellectual-property disclaimers, and I’ve seen dozens of them, and this one is at least pretty straightforward. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have much to do with reality. Bantam Books puts that disclaimer on every book they publish, but Bantam Books does not, in fact, own the electronic rights to this book. I do. And I’ve chosen to give them away. Bantam Books is not going to fuss about this. They are not going to bother you for what you do with the electronic copy of this book. If you want to check this out personally, you can ask them; they’re at 1540 Broadway NY NY 10036. However, if you were so foolish as to print this book and start retailing it for money in violation of my copyright and the commercial interests of Bantam Books, then Bantam, a part of the gigantic Bertelsmann multinational publishing combine, would roust some of their heavy-duty attorneys out of hibernation and crush you like a bug. This is only to be expected. I didn’t write this book so that you could make money out of it. If anybody is gonna make money out of this book, it’s gonna be me and my publisher.
My publisher deserves to make money out of this book. Not only did the folks at Bantam Books commission me to write the book, and pay me a hefty sum to do so, but they bravely printed, in text, an electronic document the reproduction of which was once alleged to be a federal felony. Bantam Books and their numerous attorneys were very brave and forthright about this book. Furthermore, my former editor at Bantam Books, Betsy Mitchell, genuinely cared about this project, and worked hard on it, and had a lot of wise things to say about the manuscript. Betsy deserves genuine credit for this book, credit that editors too rarely get.
The critics were very kind to THE HACKER CRACKDOWN, and commercially the book has done well. On the other hand, I didn’t write this book in order to squeeze every last nickel and dime out of the mitts of impoverished sixteen-year-old cyberpunk high- school students. Teenagers don’t have any money-no, not even enough for HACKER CRACKDOWN. That’s a major reason why they sometimes succumb to th temptation to do things they shouldn’t, such as swiping my books out of libraries. Kids: this one is all yours, all right? Go give the paper copy back. *8-)
Well-meaning, public-spirited civil libertarians don’t have much money, either. And it seems almost criminal to snatch cash out of the hands of America’s grotesquely underpaid electronic law enforcement community.
If you’re a computer cop, a hacker, or an electronic civil liberties activist, you are the target audience for this book. I wrote this book because I wanted to help you, and help other people understand you and your unique, uhm, problems. I wrote this book to aid your activities, and to contribute to the public discussion of important political issues. In giving the text away in this fashion, I am directly contributing to the book’s ultimate aim: to help civilize cyberspace.
Information WANTS to be free. And the information inside this book longs for freedom with a peculiar intensity. I genuinely believe that the natural habitat of this book is inside an electronic network. That may not be the easiest direct method to generate revenue for the book’s author, but that doesn’t matter; this is where this book belongs by its nature. I’ve written other books-plenty of other books-and I’ll write more and I am writing more, but this one is special. I am making THE HACKER CRACKDOWN available electronically as widely as I can conveniently manage, and if you like the book, and think it is useful, then I urge you to do the same with it.
You can copy this electronic book. Copy the heck out of it, be my guest, and give those copies to anybody who wants them. The nascent world of cyberspace is full of sysadmins, teachers, trainers, cybrarians, netgurus, and various species of cybernetic activist. If you’re one of those people, I know about you, and I know the hassle you go through to try to help people learn about the electronic frontier. I hope that possessing this book in electronic form will lessen your troubles. Granted, this treatment of our electronic social spectrum not the ultimate in academic rigor. And politically, it has something to offend and trouble almost everyone. But hey, I’m told it’s readable, and at least the price is right.
You can upload the book onto bulletin board systems, or Internet nodes, or electronic discussion groups. Go right ahead and do that, I am giving you express permission right now.
You can put the book on disks and give the disks away, as long as you don’t take any money for it.
But this book is not public domain. You can’t copyright it in your own name. I own the copyright. Attempts to pirate this book and make money from selling it may involve you in a serious litigative snarl. Believe me, for the pittance you might wring out of such an action, it’s really not worth it. This book don’t “belong” to you. In an odd but very genuine way, I feel it doesn’t “belong” to me, either. It’s a book about the people of cyberspace, and distributing it in this way is the best way I know to actually make this information available, freely and easily, to all the people of cyberspace-including people far outside the borders of the United States, who otherwise may never have a chance to see any edition of the book, and who may perhaps learn something useful from this strange story of distant, obscure, but portentous events in so-called “American cyberspace.”
This electronic book is now literary freeware. It now belongs to the emergent realm of alternative information economics. You have no right to make this electronic book part of the conventional flow of commerce. Let it be part of the flow of knowledge: there’s a difference. I’ve divided the book into four sections, so that it is less ungainly for upload and download; if there’s a section of particular relevance to you and your colleagues, feel free to reproduce that one and skip the rest.
Just make more when you need them, and give them to whoever might want them.
Now have fun.