View Full Version : The Legalities of Conversion


hacker
10-13-2007, 08:23 AM
I've been laying low for the last 2+ years, but I haven't been sitting around doing nothing.

On the backend, I've been building and rebuilding the tools I use every day to create, build and manage ebooks for various devices and platforms. (I've also been focusing on my divorce :disappoin and building a life with my beautiful young daughter :grin2:).

As some of you may know, I have a very long history of building ebooks and "mobile reading" resources going back at least 7 years now with Plucker (http://www.plkr.org/), Sitescooper (http://sitescooper.sf.net/) and other projects.

So I've come to an impasse... and am about to relaunch some tools and services I took offline a few years ago due to some external abuses of them.

One question remains:
What is the legality of converting one format to another? What I mean is, if someone sends me a .chm file, and I turn that into an Adobe PDF (http://www.adobe.com/products/acrobat/) or a Plucker document (http://projects.plkr.org/), or any other format (TomeRaider, iLiad, etc.), is that legal?

I see a lot of people dancing around the issues related to using libchm (http://www.jedrea.com/chmlib/), ConvertLIT (http://www.convertlit.com/index.php), and other tools, but there doesn't seem to be any single definitive answer about their use.

There have been some exclusions to the DMCA (http://www.copyright.gov/1201/) which at first glance, appear to offer some leeway with respect to converting into and out of these formats, but it is written somewhat vaguely.
So let me pose another question:
If you could convert anything to anything, what would you want to see first?HTML => {Plucker,iSilo,TomeRaider}
CHM => {HTML, PDF, Text, mobile formats}
PDF => {HTML, mobile formats}

What about Sony LRF? Rocketbook? iRex iLiad? iPhone? iPod?

Which formats are high on your "I must have it" list?

HarryT
10-13-2007, 08:35 AM
In converting a file from one format to another, you are creating a "derived work" and this, technically speaking, requires the permission of the original copyright holder. Of course, nobody's going to bother about you doing it for personal use, but offering some sort of "public" file conversion service may not be advisible.

JSWolf
10-13-2007, 10:37 AM
As for most wanted formats, I'd have to say based on MobileRead users, the top three are LRF, PRC, and IMP in that order.

If the work is in the public domain or released under Creative Commons, then you can go ahead and convert the work. If the site where the work came from says it's ok, then fine. But, if there is no clear proof of permission, then you'd need to obtain permission from the author.

HarryT
10-13-2007, 10:44 AM
If the work is in the public domain or released under Creative Commons, then you can go ahead and convert the work.

Be careful what you say, Jon.

One of the 4 basic conditions in a creative commons licence specifies whether or not derived works are permitted. If they are not, then format conversion is not permitted.

JSWolf
10-13-2007, 10:56 AM
Be careful what you say, Jon.

One of the 4 basic conditions in a creative commons licence specifies whether or not derived works are permitted. If they are not, then format conversion is not permitted.
I thought a CC license allowed conversion, but not changing the work itself otherwise. I'll have to go have a read of the CC license then.

HarryT
10-13-2007, 11:02 AM
The actual phrase used in the licence is "Licensees may copy, distribute, display and perform only verbatim copies of the work, not derivative works based upon it." I suppose it's a question of whether a different format constitutes a "verbatim copy" or not. My gut feeling is that it doesn't - it's a file with different binary contents.

RWood
10-13-2007, 11:24 AM
There was a play by Voltaire that I wanted to include back when I converted some other works of his. It was released in English under CC and did not permit derived works. I wrote to the author and he never responded. The work was never posted here.

hacker
10-13-2007, 11:37 AM
It's definitely a grey area.. especially given the tool I've created (and others I've written over the last several years).

Now I'm seriously reconsidering making the service public at all. In a nutshell, I have written a web-based tool that can convert pretty much anything to anything. This includes pointing to a URL, as well as uploading a local file.

Microsoft Word => Plucker? Sure. .chm => pdf? No problem. RSS feed to .chm? Yep, it can do that.

I guess I'll just keep it to myself for personal use only. Its too bad that a useful tool can't be shared with others to help spread ebooks in a format they prefer for everyone else to read.

On to my other projects...

HarryT
10-13-2007, 11:41 AM
It sounds very useful, hacker. Couldn't you "cover your ass" by putting a disclaimer that it must only be used in situations where the user has a legitimate right to do the conversion, or something similar? I assume you're not removing any DRM or anything like that, are you, so you shouldn't fall foul of the DMCA.

kovidgoyal
10-13-2007, 11:44 AM
Why dont you just make the software available rather than providing it as a service?

DeGodefroi
10-13-2007, 11:59 AM
I'd love the tools!
And well Harry T's remark is indeed good, add disclaimer and NOBODY can cry wolf/claim foul at you. It is not forbidden to convert 1 file format into another. It just depends what is on the file and the license. But that is NOT your issue. I could use the tools to convert a word document I wrote into say prc. Actually, I like to have that for a manual I am writing.

hacker
10-13-2007, 01:05 PM
Why dont you just make the software available rather than providing it as a service?
I may make it available, but I'm not sure people will want to pay what I'd have to charge for it..

Not to mention, it would only run on platforms designed for such a purpose, the requirements to run it are VERY specific, and don't include Windows.

hacker
10-13-2007, 01:09 PM
I'd love the tools!
And well Harry T's remark is indeed good, add disclaimer and NOBODY can cry wolf/claim foul at you. It is not forbidden to convert 1 file format into another. It just depends what is on the file and the license. But that is NOT your issue. I could use the tools to convert a word document I wrote into say prc. Actually, I like to have that for a manual I am writing.

I'll see if I can add a mandatory disclaimer that the user must agree to before launching the conversion. I'll also log he heck out of the request, so if there is any question about whether or not it was "Authorized", I will have the date, time, request, IP, etc. in the logs and the database.

Good idea. I'm not sure if legally, it covers my butt though... I'll run it through my copyright lawyer. They're amazing (but closed on Saturday)..

:grin2:

JSWolf
10-13-2007, 09:12 PM
You must have good lawyers. They're Jewish.

JSWolf
10-13-2007, 09:13 PM
The actual phrase used in the license is "Licensees may copy, distribute, display and perform only verbatim copies of the work, not derivative works based upon it." I suppose it's a question of whether a different format constitutes a "verbatim copy" or not. My gut feeling is that it doesn't - it's a file with different binary contents.
I would say "verbatim copies" means the actually text and not the binary. I've seen that where for download are different ebook editions. So yes, I would go with "not changing the text when you change the format". Also, if you are talking about not changing the binary, then it would be impossible to perform an ebook. So since that also gives the right to perform the work, then that would be changing it from the format it was in to a new format. So that has to mean "the format is ok to change as long as the text is not changed".

DaleDe
10-22-2007, 07:44 PM
I would say "verbatim copies" means the actually text and not the binary. I've seen that where for download are different ebook editions. So yes, I would go with "not changing the text when you change the format". Also, if you are talking about not changing the binary, then it would be impossible to perform an ebook. So since that also gives the right to perform the work, then that would be changing it from the format it was in to a new format. So that has to mean "the format is ok to change as long as the text is not changed".

I would certainly agree with this definition. When you quote someone's data nobody cares that the quote has to be on the same page and formatted exactly the same. It is the content that verbatim means, not the format. A single document can be reflowed to fit a device with changing the content. PDF files can be repaginated and reflowed on the spot depending on the reader and device. The binary rule certainly does not apply to verbatim and is a electronic artifact. If the binary rule applied you couldn't even move a file from a pc to a mac due to the line end conventions.

Dale

jbenny
10-22-2007, 07:52 PM
Related to all of this, I recently found this web site, which claims to allow conversion between many different formats. No ebook formats were listed, however (PDF doesn't count). I haven't tried it myself, so I don't know the quality of the conversions.

http://www.zamzar.com/

Kilarney
10-23-2007, 01:42 PM
You must have good lawyers. They're Jewish.That was uncalled for.

VillageReader
10-23-2007, 02:20 PM
The actual phrase used in the licence is "Licensees may copy, distribute, display and perform only verbatim copies of the work, not derivative works based upon it." I suppose it's a question of whether a different format constitutes a "verbatim copy" or not. My gut feeling is that it doesn't - it's a file with different binary contents.

In a dictionary definition, verbatim refers to words, not bits & bytes. One would presume a verbatim copy doesn't change the text, not how that text is stored on a disk. But, in this arena, people often make up their own definitions ;)

NatCh
10-23-2007, 02:57 PM
But, in this arena, people often make up their own definitions ;)Do you mean on-line forums, or copyright law? :)

HarryT
10-24-2007, 02:46 AM
Do you mean on-line forums, or copyright law? :)

Or lawyers :).

Nigel
10-27-2007, 08:39 AM
Converting should come under "Fair Usage" just as it does with movies and music. One should only run afoul if giving a copy, converted or not to someone else.

HarryT
10-27-2007, 09:14 AM
If you read the start of the thread you'll see that "converting for the purpose of reposting" was the original question. If a book has a CC licence saying "no derived works", is it permissible to convert to a different format without the author's permission?

nekokami
10-27-2007, 11:41 AM
I think it hangs on the definition of "derived works." I wouldn't consider a new file format to be a "derived work," but I'm not a lawyer (in any country).