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The Sinister Publisher


British book publishers plan to put a microchip into every book to record who owns it--an unprecedented surveillance measure. The stated motive is to stop theft of books from bookstores--but that doesn't require total surveillance like this. Other techniques are already used. Given the publishers' opposition to such institutions as free lending libraries and used book stores, we must suspect that this scheme is aimed at them. Will they try to collect a fee every time a used book is resold, as part of storing the new owner's name on the chip? The chip will not just record that the book has been sold, but also the identity of the book's owner. Such a recording system might be appropriate for old, rare books (which don't have these chips), but when applied to books published today it is a senseless form of surveillance. Will it be an excuse for the bookstore to insist on getting the purchaser's name? "I'm sorry, sir, but I need your ID card in order to register this book as yours. You wouldn't want to be accused of stealing it, would you?" Companies today aim to keep track of who buys what, and who uses what. I don't buy books with a credit card or a bank card, because I don't want the bookstore to get my name. I declined to continue using a discount card from a book store when they switched to a computerized system that uses it to record the specific books that a person buys. These chips would be a great opportunity for the business to make this monitoring more effective. Of course, all the records would be available to the police when they want it. The person who told me about this plan had a suggestion for how to deal with it: when you buy a book, put it in the microwave for 30 seconds to fry the chip. (Whether this would actually fry it, I don't know.) Since the book is your property, it should be lawful for you to do this--unless the UK passes a law to prohibit it. The UK government tends to give the publishers whatever they want; it is planning to implement the new EU copyright directive (the one that resembles the DMCA in the US) in the harshest and most restrictive possible way. I don't recommend that people rely on microwaving these chips after the fact to solve the problem. The time to act is now, before the plan is adopted, before it goes into effect. You can combine activism against this plan with pressure for a less restrictive implementation of the EU copyright directive.
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