Apple’s announcement yesterday of iBooks 2, iBooks Author, and iTunes U signaled the company’s desire to revolutionize both the textbook industry in particular and education in general. While reactions to the announcement have been largely positive, some controversy has sprung up concerning iBooks Author. The Mac app is a tool that allows users to produce e-books quickly and easily, and to insert the kind of interactive elements that Apple showed off in their presentation yesterday.
The controversy comes from a provision of the app’s End User License Agreement – that thing that you always click to accept but never actually read. Well, tucked away in iBooks Author’s EULA is a provision that has raised a few eyebrows. Here is the actual quote from the EULA:
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.
A later section of the EULA contains the following:
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.
In other words, books made in iBooks Author can only be sold in the iBookstore, and Apple will require their customary 30% cut. On the one hand, the requirement seems reasonable: iBooks Author is a free tool, and it makes sense for them to want a cut of profits made from a tool they give away. On the other hand, Apple’s attempt to lock down distribution of content created with any software tool is unprecedented. No company that distributes content creation tools – music editing software, word processors, images editors, even other ebook creation tools – restricts what users do with their content after its created.