It would seem that the monkeys who dominate executive boardrooms are incapable of thinking rationally. The latest case in point is a patent awarded to Amazon that specifies a method of computer substitution of one or more synonyms into electronically distributed text that will allow the later detection of unauthorized copies of that text (text of patent is here) .
Now I can almost understand the logic behind Amazon looking at doing something like this, as their site allows users to ‘Look Inside the Book’ and read a couple pages of the book, a feature that many users like as it is similar to a book reader’s normal method of book selection in a book store, where the reader can browse through the potential purchase to see if he really likes it. The trouble is, such a feature allows for multiple automated requests for excerpts, looking at different points of the book, and it then becomes possible to stitch these requests together to get the entire contents of the book – for free. And which could then be distributed far and wide across the net, with no income going to either Amazon or the author. Obviously this is even easier with ebooks, where the entire text is already available electronically.
But the idea behind the usefulness of this patent is that you can make synonym substitutions that do not alter the meaning of the text in any meaningful way, i.e., the reader will never know the difference. This is dumb and stupid on its face. “It was a dark and stormy night” might become “It was a caliginous and raving night” or “It was an obscure and disorderly night” – not exactly conveying what the original does. Authors, I think, would be very upset if their precious text is altered in this fashion, and would more than likely cry ‘foul’ and sue for copyright infringement, as clearly this method alters the text slightly and then attempts to sell for profit the end result, which at least would normally be considered plagiarism. And there really is no need to actually alter the text this way as there are plenty of other ways to uniquely digitally watermark text, say by changing kerning, spacing, pitch, or font for only certain words or sentences, that will not alter the meaning the of the text (with some caveats that some poetry depends on some of these characteristics – how it looks on a page – to achieve its effect).
Somewhere along the line, company execs need to get hip to the fact that the best way to stop piracy, whether it be books, songs, or movies, is not to add ‘security’ (whether it be DRM codes, ‘watermarking’, or whatever other method they might come up with) to the product, but to make the product cheap enough that it doesn’t make sense to go to the effort of illegally copying it.
But there is also a notable and frightening feature of this patent in that it specifically mentions that the requestor of the digital information can be uniquely identified and tracked. Now I don’t know about you, but I really don’t like the idea of anybody being able to determine what I’m reading. If the government starts doing this, then what’s to stop Orwell’s 1984 from coming true? Because once some authority can do something like this, it is a very short step from such monitoring to arresting the poor slob who has the temerity to read something that says nasty things about said authority.