Book and Reading News

Pirated e-books now readable on pirated e-reader!

From China comes the Kindle 2 clone, a $210 rip-off of Amazon’s hot-selling e-reader device that will ship in China latter this year or early in 2010. Made by the Peking University Founder Group Corp, which changed a few features of the Kindle 2, using “Page Up” and “Page Down”—in English—to label navigation buttons (when […]

founder-intl-ebook-reader.previewFrom China comes the Kindle 2 clone, a $210 rip-off of Amazon’s hot-selling e-reader device that will ship in China latter this year or early in 2010. Made by the Peking University Founder Group Corp, which changed a few features of the Kindle 2, using “Page Up” and “Page Down”—in English—to label navigation buttons (when cadging designs, it is always a good idea to look to the IBM PC keyboard for UI inspiration), for example. And the keys are a slightly different shape than those on the Kindle. The device’s name was not disclosed, apparently, though the pictured unit is labeled “WeFound.”

It will likely display e-books in a proprietary format developed by the Peking University Founder Group, called “Apabi.” Hopefully, the company will respect the rights of authors in making e-books available in the format and not simply copy a file and call it their own.

It has a roughly 6-inch E-Ink display (the company is reported to have described the size as “unclear”) and uses some form of wireless cellular data to transfer purchases to the device, according to Nikkei Electronics Asia. The reporter could only find out that a “SIM card” is required, so it is hard to say what the connectivity actually is, though readers will purportedly be able to make purchases and download e-books to the device itself, just like Kindle.

3 replies on “Pirated e-books now readable on pirated e-reader!”

That’s a great headline, except … I guess I’m too dense to figure out what part of the Kindle has been pirated by those pirates of the China Seas.

If making the externals resemble someone else’s design were illegal, then half the fashion industry would be in jail. Without a fake label is a knock-off really a counterfeit?

And I read that Founder International is buying its displays from E-Ink, the same as Amazon. If a supermarket chain can sell cereal and cans of vegetables under a house-brand — clearly isn’t producing what it’s selling — then … then, well, I’m unclear on how this becomes piracy practiced by a computer company.

On the inside, well, hey! Amazon and Founder are both building on top of the Linux kernel. But then so is most everybody else.

Now it’s true that the Kindle will display only a subset of Western-language accents, and there must be some devious manipulations Founder has undertaken to enable double-byte Unicode characters. It’s awfully contemptuous of a pirate to provide features the original lacks, I guess.

And, of course, these pirated e-readers will be sold in Japan, unlike Amazon’s Kindle, so the pirate is reaping the reward for all of Amazon’s hard work. Too bad those Japanese aren’t able to buy real Kindles, even if they are incapable of displaying CJK glyphs; is this another case of the customer suffering from illicit copying?

Well, if Founder turns out to read special proprietary Amazon-only ebook files, sold only by Amazon, then who is going to make up the losses Amazon suffers from sales it doesn’t get to make?

Ah, try as I might, I’m having so much trouble getting into the right mindset to condemn Founder’s meretriciousness. Perhaps you could help me out by pointing out the pirate actions I’m overlooking.

Roger Sperberg

I think you are taking the spirit of the article in the wrong way. Rather than condemning, I was pointing out the ever-represent fact of piracy, particularly at the early stages of the market’s development. Apparently, the word “piracy” is too loaded to be treated lightly. “Piracy” has been the biggest problem facing publishers throughout its history. The fact that a Chinese firm took the industrial design and is using the same parts from Kindle is inevitable and roughly par for the historical course.

“Piracy” also lays out the landscape in which publishers must compete, since both e-book and e-reader, the two mechanical parts of the replicated physical book can be pirated separately in this evolution of publishing. If you look back at the history of publishing, say to the Stationers Company in England, it was a cartel that tried to control different contributors to the bookmaking process—paper makers, printers, binders, booksellers—each of whom could and often did, participate in “pyrating.”

I applied the term “pirating” lightly, I thought it would be read as I meant it. The exclamation point at the end of the headline should have given away that I was making light of the situation.

On the other hand, your argument that they improved the device is congratulating the pirates something they didn’t do. Since most Linux distros are double-byte enabled, I don’t think character-display implementation was any harder than, say, laying out the keyboard as Amazon had. They simply made a copy better suited to a different market than toward which the Kindle is currently targeted. The use of English on the controls of the device, then, is even more confusing.

Yes, they may find more success than Amazon in China or Japan, if Amazon doesn’t ship before they do. But profits don’t make peddlers virtuous, do they?

Your fashion and canned vegetable comparisons are a bit mangled. You’re implying that copying is all we do, but the fact is that the label is exactly what makes a counterfeit dress. A knock-off would not be labeled deceptively, it wouldn’t claim to be a designer’s work. It would just copy it, probably in different fabric and colors. Likewise, when a supermarket does private label canned vegetables, they don’t claim to be making the product, they only offer their guarantee, whatever that’s worth, that the food is edible.

So, the pirates you see depend on your perspective. I don’t particularly appreciate knock-off designs, though I never think about how I’d look in a dress and, maybe, then I’d not give a damn if I were wearing something that looked good and was cheap. With regards to a device for reading, on the other hand, there are a number of functions that must work right and be conducted honestly in order for all contributors to the creation of a book to be rewarded appropriately. Saying that isn’t an argument for price, only a demand that the negotiation be conducted between contributors and the seller of a book.

“Piracy” has indeed become a hot-button term, and it’s too bad that it’s now out of bounds for tongue-in-cheek references.

A few small points:

From what I understand, the implementation of double-byte Unicode support probably did not involve any great ingenuity on Founder’s part. But it does impose a fairly heavy tax on handheld devices’ limited processing and memory, and it requires significant attention by developers of applications that run on the those devices. So, for instance, the vastly more capable Nokia N810 Internet Tablet also lacks double-byte CJK support and cannot render complex scripts although its Linux distro is based on a desktop and not embedded Linux.

Simply put, Founder has engineered around these difficulties in a way that Amazon found too expensive or was incapable of implementing. I think it would be patronizing to belittle a similar accomplishment if made by the second-biggest American IT company — Dell? HP? — so, yes, I guess congratulations is appropriate in this context.

The other matter regards the content readable on this and other e-readers made by Amazon’s competitors. No one, on counterfeited or or legitimate devices, is going to read Amazon-sold content outside of Kindle’s own software or hardware since that DRM is uncracked. If any pirated material shows up on a Wefound or a Sony or netbook, it’ll be because it was pirated the old-fashioned way, from a print copy. I would not expect any Japanese booksellers to sell such material for reading on a Wefound. And if books are shared outside the retail channel, probably there’ll be just as many Dell and HP netbooks displaying them as Wefound e-readers, so reserving your slur to the Chinese producer seems ingenuous.

As for the house-brand cans of vegetables I can buy at A&P — the supermarket chain is buying them from the same canner that produces a competitor’s product. Only price is going to affect my purchasing decision. If the displays for the Sony, Amazon, Cool-er and Cybook e-readers are all made at the same factory, it’s going to be hard to claim significant differences in quality, durability and reliability. Even if the reading experience with one or another of these companies’ e-readers is inferior as a whole, surely the group of devices will have many aspects that lack a dramatic difference.

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