Other Things

(a blog)

Eucalyptus Available Again

The short story is that Eucalyptus is back on sale, and you'll be pleased to hear that it's almost exactly the same as it was. You can get it from the App Store here. It now blocks, in some regions, the download of a small number of books - six in total at this time - that we've been notified are not freely distributable in those regions. For the vast majority of users, there are no noticeable changes in behaviour. If you'd like to hear more background on the saga we've been through in the last few weeks from Jamie, the full story is below.

What Happened

On the evening of the 16th of March, I received an ominous sounding email from Apple. It was a forwarded copy of a complaint it had received on the 12th from The Random House Group Limited, stating that Eucalyptus was infringing its UK copyrights of six books authored by P. G. Wodehouse. Apple asked me to resolve the situation with Random House within five days.

Of course, Eucalyptus doesn't contain these books any more than a new iPod contains music. All the books Eucalyptus uses are distributed by Project Gutenberg - and, in fact, downloaded directly from their servers. I hoped this would perhaps just take a quick phone call to clear up. First thing on the morning of the 17th, I called Random House. I spoke to someone and explained the details, asking for the person identified in the complaint to call me back. I left my telephone contact details. I heard nothing in response. A few days later, on the 22nd, I sent an email to the person identified in the complaint, containing more information. It explained that the books were distributed by Project Gutenberg, and again contained my telephone contact details. Still though, no reply.

On evening of the 23rd, Apple removed Eucalyptus from sale in the App Store. I attempted to discuss the matter by email with Apple, but - unsurprisingly, if you've ever had to deal with them - the result was just a form email saying "For any questions relating to this matter, please contact The Random House Group Limited directly." This situation was becoming rather agonising (and promoting a few frustrated feelings of deja-vu, I don't mind admitting).

The following morning - Wednesday the 24th - I called Random House again, leaving a message explaining to them that I was now losing income as a direct result of their complaint to Apple.

All the while as this was happening, I was of course also talking to and taking advice from lawyers on the matter.

That afternoon, I finally received a return phone call from Random House. Their representative was actually very civil - almost apologetic in personal terms. The people involved obviously hadn't expected Apple to take such draconian action so quickly, and explained that they were planning to contact me, but had been unable to so far because of previous time commitments (I'm deliberately omitting details here - suffice to say that they seemed genuine). After talking, it was clear that Random House was not likely to back down from the infringement claims, but they were satisfied with the idea of blocking access to the books in question to users in the UK, where they hold the copyright.

Over the Wednesday and Thursday, I worked on this solution - and it's in the Eucalyptus update that's now on the store. If you're interested in the details, Eucalyptus now contacts our server before downloading a book, which uses a well-respected GeoIP service to discern the country that the request is being made from. Presuming it's not on a 'blacklist' (now consisting solely of the six books that Random House notified us of), the download of the book is performed directly from Project Gutenberg, just as before.

Random House owns the copyright to this title in the United Kingdom

I'd note that I'm still of the opinion that it's not Things Made Out Of Other Things' responsibility to block the download of these books. The implementation of the block is intended as a pragmatic attempt to come up with a simple solution that satisfies the concerns of Random House and, in turn, Apple.

The next evening - Thursday the 25th - a version of Eucalyptus with these changes was submitted to Apple. A second version was resubmitted on the morning of Friday the 26th (hey, there's always one final missed bug to sort out!). On the 29th, it went to the "in review" state, and a couple of hours later I was informed that "the review process will require additional time". I emailed Apple about the added delay on the 31st, but, you might by now not be surprised to learn, received no reply beyond an automated acknowledgement.

Finally, though - the happy ending - on the evening of Saturday the 3rd of April, Apple approved this version of Eucalyptus, and it went on sale. That's eleven days after the original takedown, eight days after a version satisfying the complainants was submitted to them, and five days after they actively started to review the new version.

More Background

So, that's the situation, and the explanation of Eucalyptus' recent unavailability. The rest of this post is more of an 'editorial' about the situation.

A Note on Copyright

This is what I've learned. It's in no way intended to be legal advice, and it may well be wrong - it's just my current layman's understanding of a very complex situation.

The works of P. G. Wodehouse are an interesting anomaly in the world of international copyright. Wodehouse died old - aged ninety-three - in 1975. He started writing young, in the early years of the first decade of the 1900s, in his early twenties. He was born British, and published his first works in the UK, but later became an American citizen. Some of his works went out of copyright in his own lifetime. Others have never been out of copyright.

Around the late 80s, copyright in the USA and in the UK (and many other nations) was extended and harmonised to life plus seventy years. In the UK this was retroactive - meaning that works that were out of copyright came 'back into' copyright. The works of Wodehouse that are are under scrutiny here are among those. In the USA, the change was not retroactive - basically, if something was out of copyright in the USA, it still is.

To make matters more complex, the UK respects copyright as in the country of publication, so other works in a similar situation to the Wodehouse works we're talking about here that were first published in the USA were not brought 'back into' copyright.

On an interesting tangent, did you know that UK copyright law has a special provision for Peter Pan? It's complex, but in essence It's owned in perpetuity by Great Ormond Street Hospital. This has no bearing on this article, but it surprised me.

A Personal Point of View

What's my personal view on this? Complex. On one hand, I strongly believe that it's ludicrous to suggest that apps allowing internet access should be responsible for what their users choose to download - that way lies craziness. Should Safari be expected to filter access to copyrighted works somehow? The responsibility surely lies with the distributer of the copyrighted work, not the application.

On the other hand, in many ways I can understand the displeasure of the copyright holders. Imagine that someone in a country with no, or lax, copyright started up an archive of iPhone apps. Imagine further that someone in another nation - the USA or the UK, for example - started selling an app with the ability to download and use apps from this archive, and people started getting Eucalyptus for free 'via' it. I'd be angry (not to mention poor, and not likely to work on similar things in the future). Even if it wasn't actually illegal to sell this app-getting app, I'd still say that doing that was morally wrong. That it's not illegal to do something doesn't imply that it's 'right' to do it.

Now, you could argue that the situation is not the same here. The works available from Project Gutenberg are all very old. I don't personally believe that it's right, or useful to society, that works this old should still be in copyright anywhere - a more sensible copyright term would, at most, extend to the life of the author, perhaps - although I'd argue this would be for compassionate reasons only - plus their spouse, and dependents at time of death until they reach an age at which they can be expected to support themselves. Life plus seventy is unfortunately what copyright terms are in most places right now though, and I'm uneasy with any suggestion that it's okay to ignore one part of a law while relying on another (especially in a democracy).

In the end, the complex moral arguments, combined with pragmatism - I don't think I'm giving too much away by saying that Things Made Out Of Other Things isn't in the financial position to defend a copyright infringement lawsuit from Random House - were all a part of making the decision to filter these books.

The View From Above

I think that the most disturbing thing in this whole affair to me isn't actually in the details, but in the way Apple in this case, but really our society in general, now deals with claims like this. It seems like anyone could make an unfounded complaint about any app, and Apple would remove the app from sale. Without cooperation from the complainant, it would be impossible to sell it again without taking - and winning - legal action against the complainant. In effect, the entity the complaint has been made against is guilty until proven innocent.

In the End

We've lost couple of weeks sales, but Eucalyptus is on sale again in the Apple App Store. The download filter covers a /very/ small number of books - at the moment, six - and only in specific regions - at the moment, only in the UK. They're all books that our laws say shouldn't be distributed to the users (whoever is responsible for that distribution). There are still over 20,000 available to Eucalyptus users worldwide. I hope you understand my decisions. I'll be very interested to see how Apple and the developers of other book reading apps deal with this situation.

10 Comments
  • Welcome Back!

  • Welcome to the world of Edge and StoneLoops! Of Jurassica, banned for months (and counting) from App Store for ludicrous complaints.

  • Thanks for the detailed update - much appreciated.

    I wonder if they've pursued Stanza and the other Gutenberg vacuums in the same way? What were the titles you pulled?

  • Sod's Law isn't it? I will, of course, purchase Eucalyptus but one of the authors I want on my iPhone is............................... P.G. Wodehouse!!! Anyway six books unavailable out of his vast output is barely a drop in the ocean but annoying nonetheless. The old man must be turning in his grave!

    Kind regards,

    Nigel Foster

  • Matt Brockwell @ April 6th 2010 – 2:57pm

    Glad you're back.

  • Curious that 6 titles shut you down: While thousands of Google Scanned Books are available and, copyright seems to be flexible while the titles available continue expanding. Orwell would be entertained, I am sure. Congratulations on the episode and taking time to share the details. Buyer Beware has now been edited to fit our digital Brave World, the single word warning fits all cases: Beware. --Joseph

  • I don't know what's been going on, but there seem to be a lot of copyright claims lately. Maybe it's caused by the coming of the iPad. I'm also a developer and I had to handle with KONAMI for infringing their copyright.

    I had to resubmit a version which was rather late to be put online (past the 5 days). Luckily the KONAMI spokesperson couldn't care less and actually didn't even reply to my mails. The result is that the new version is online and that the copyrighted material is removed, but that I never received any notice from either Apple or KONAMI about the issue other than the initial one.

    Anyway, glad to hear that everything's alright again. I'm a happy eucalyptus user as well. I'll send out some tweets about eucalyptus, maybe this will make up for at least a handful of lost sales.

    Kind Regards, A fellow developer

  • Darren: The six titles Random House notified us of are "Right Ho, Jeeves", "Something Fresh" (or "Something New", its US title), "A Damsel in Distress", "The Clicking of Cuthbert", "The Adventures of Sally", and "Picadilly Jim".

  • All available and downloadable via Stanza. It doesn't seem at all fair that you should have been singled out for special attention, and to have lost those sales.

    Please let us know if there's anyone we can complain to on your behalf.

  • While I share your displeasure with Apple's policies I hope this doesn't dissuade you from continuing your good work on Eucalyptus. I'm still awaiting an update that allows us to read any user uploaded book (even though you've been circumspect about the possibility of such a feature). And how about an iPad app? I tried Apple's iBooks but their word spacing is soo off that I finished reading the book by reading it in the Eucalyptus app with single pixel mode!

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