Today we can scan a printed book into electronic form, then distribute it over the phone in minutes to hundreds of people at pennies a copy. Further, we can produce books electronically without ever committing them to paper. Finally, we can augment electronic books to include sound and motion pictures, and automatic cross-referencing. Electronic books can be easier to distribute, less expensive, less risky, more powerful, more flexible, more immediate, and easier to search and collate. They can also be interactive, changeable, and adaptive.
For these reasons, and others detailed in this report, electronic books will become a large part of the book market within the decade. And that will make it harder for publishers to ensure that their increasingly expensive books are not illegally copied.
Traditionally, publishers and authors have used copyright and the courts to protect their investment. So the natural way for publishers to adapt to the new technology is to copy protect their books, as software publishers and video producers first tried, and recording artists are still trying, to protect their products. Copy protection is like putting a lock on each copy then selling a key with each locked book.
Protections on marketable intellectual properties try to equate intellectual properties, like this report, with tangible properties, like ham sandwiches, or rights on tangible properties, like franchises, licenses, water rights, stock futures, or airline routes. Because of their artificiality, it could be said that copy protection merely feeds lawyers and annoys legitimate users. Whether that position is defensible, copy protection certainly adds expense and works against easy searching and collating. So for educators, scientists, and technologists it would be desirable to avoid it, if possible.
The information in books is freely accessible; this ease of information exchange makes civilization go. But paper books are not easy to search, cross-reference, index, collate by multiple subjects, or carry in bulk. It will increase information distribution, and benefit education, science, and technology, if there was some way for publishers to make their books cheap, electronic, and not copy protected. That would keep the freedom of paper while increasing searchability and availability.