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Old 10-13-2007, 08:23 AM   #1
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The Legalities of Conversion

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 and building a life with my beautiful young daughter ).

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, Sitescooper 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 or a Plucker document, or any other format (TomeRaider, iLiad, etc.), is that legal?

I see a lot of people dancing around the issues related to using libchm, ConvertLIT, 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 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?
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Old 10-13-2007, 08:35 AM   #2
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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.
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Old 10-13-2007, 10:37 AM   #3
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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.
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Old 10-13-2007, 10:44 AM   #4
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Originally Posted by JSWolf View Post
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.
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Old 10-13-2007, 10:56 AM   #5
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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.
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Old 10-13-2007, 11:02 AM   #6
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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.
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Old 10-13-2007, 11:24 AM   #7
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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.
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Old 10-13-2007, 11:37 AM   #8
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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...
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Old 10-13-2007, 11:41 AM   #9
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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.
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Old 10-13-2007, 11:44 AM   #10
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Why dont you just make the software available rather than providing it as a service?
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Old 10-13-2007, 11:59 AM   #11
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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.
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Old 10-13-2007, 01:05 PM   #12
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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.
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Old 10-13-2007, 01:09 PM   #13
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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)..

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Old 10-13-2007, 09:12 PM   #14
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You must have good lawyers. They're Jewish.
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Old 10-13-2007, 09:13 PM   #15
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Quote:
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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".
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