Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Is the Complete New Yorker Spyware?

From The Complete New Yorker End User License Agreement:

7. Collection of Viewing Information. You acknowledge that you are aware of and consent to the collection of your viewing information during your use of the Software and/or Content. Viewing information may include, without limitation, the time spent viewing specific pages, the order in which pages are viewed, the time of day pages are accessed, IP address and user ID. This viewing information may be linked to personally identifiable information, such as name or address and shared with third parties.

When you buy a piece of software or CD or digital music file, you are entering into an agreement to abide by the laws of a banana republic. Existing law is set aside as you agree to a whole host of other laws by clicking the 'YES' button. Perhaps the dictator is benevolent and the laws are not onerous but, maybe the laws are insidious.

In the case of the Complete New Yorker, you give up your privacy. Perhaps the New Yorker will sell your name to Starbucks if your reading profile suggests an epicure. Or, if you are interested in reading about automobiles, perhaps Buick will soon be pitching you the Lucerne - a Buick for sophisticates. But what if your spying dictator is not benevolent? Who do they sell the Islam reading list to?

Frankly, I don't know what you are agreeing to when you click 'YES' on the license agreement. What are the consequences if you don't comply with the rules? What are the damages? Are you liable for criminal prosecution? If I have a license agreement for Hooptyrides that requires my entertaining internet presence only be read while sitting on the toilet, do I have recourse if the kind reader chooses to read from their cubicle?

Question 1: What if you choose not to have your privacy compromised? What if you do not want to become part of a secondary revenue stream of selling data to third parties? Can you opt out? Doesn't appear so.

Question 2: What if you want to make a back-up copy of the Complete New Yorker? The license agreement says you can:

2. Prohibitions… You may not copy, transfer, sell, loan or lease Software and/or Content, except: (a) to make a single copy solely for back-up or archive purposes…
But if it is guarded with Macrovision copy protection, how can you?

Question 3: Making a copy requires that you use a special, Macrovision-stripping DVD ripper made for copying movies. Does that mean you have violated the end user license agreement?

2. Prohibitions... You agree not to modify, translate, disassemble, decompile, reverse engineer, create deriative works of, convert to a different format such as pdf or make any other attempt by any means to discover or obtain the source code for the Software and/or Content...
An archival back-up would be modified and converted to have the Macrovision removed. Is there any way to make a back-up that is in compliance with the end user license agreement?

Question 4: Can you copy the Complete New Yorker to your hard drive, eliminate the endless disk swapping, protect your original DVDs and enjoy unprecedented speed? Ed Klaris, general counsel and project director for the Complete New Yorker, said that no you can't. Not for legal reasons, he said, but the New Yorker decided it was adequate to be able to read a single disc at a time. Reading issues chronologically is super-practical and is a completely reasonable way to read through a DVD but if you want to read by topic across the whole collection, it is totally preposterous. Search for Chinatown, goblin, Philip Johnson or Stanley Kubrick and you will drive yourself insane with swapping. It's like having a Mac Plus.

If Ed says it is not for legal reasons, I guess you can load it on a hard drive. It seems to conflict with paragraph 2 of the Prohibitions section "...agree not to modify, translate..." but Ed is the dictator.

How do you load it on a hard drive? Two ways.

Create disk images - ISOlator (Mac) and Alcohol 120 (PC) both seem to create DVD images that work correctly while avoiding the Macrovision errors. To use the images, you need to virtually 'mount' the images using Toast (Mac) or Alcohol 120 (PC). When it asks for the appropriate disk, you mount the disk image that is required. I have not tried this, but several Hooptyreaders report good results.

Copy Issues to Local Hard Drive Issues Folder - This is a more elegant solution. Oddly, although the Complete New Yorker is locked up in twenty different ways, it relies on a public domain database called SQLite. There is an Issues table in the database that has the complete list of every issue along with corresponding DVD number. Each issue is assigned a number 1 through 8 plus 9 for the harddrive. If you copy every djvu issue file to the local issues directory and change the issues table so that every issue points to the local hard drive (9), then you can scream through the issues. It is fast like the blazes. So elegant and beautiful. I downloaded a shareware SQL database manager off CNet to make the changes, but individuals smarter than I could do it with the free command line SQLite.


Could the Complete New Yorker have included an install everything to local hard drive option? I don't see why not. And, I would bet, that the New Yorker staff and developers are using it from local drives.

(Thanks to all the people that helped and especially to Robert as I would not have been able to copy the Complete New Yorker to the hard drive without his assistance.)

Question 4: What if you want clarification about any of these issues? Their license agreement states you get no support and a call to the New Yorker confirms this. They do not discuss legal issues.
5. No Support. TNY, its retailers, distributors and TNY Parties shall have no obligation under this Agreement to provide support or other services relating to the Software and/or Content.

Question 5: Is the Complete New Yorker spyware? I don't know. Paragraph 7 clearly states that they have the right to spy, but I am not sure if they are actually doing it. I don't understand enough about the technology to determine if a trickle or a flood of data is going back to the New Yorker. Does it leave your computer vulnerable like the infamous rootkit? I don't know.

Question 6: Is the New Yorker in violation of copyright law? There has been a lot written about the New Yorker's position that they are not repurposing the content in a different format. Their position is that a complete page scan on a DVD is exactly the same as the same page in a magazine and is therefore within their rights to recreate without new clearances or additional compensation. But, is it really the same? If the magazine image is exactly the same but is included as bait in a data mining application to collect user information to sell to third parties, is it really the same as a magazine? I don't know.

Question 7: What if it is all too much? What if the lack of support, legal ambiguity, spyware, Macrovision and everything else is just too much? Can you return it? Doesn't seem like it, but I can't find retailer language as to your options if you do not agree to an end user license.

From The Complete New Yorker End License Agreement:
From the Amazon return policy:
Partial Refunds will be issued for the following items:

Any CD, DVD, VHS tape, software, video game, cassette tape, or vinyl record that has been opened/taken out of its plastic wrap. (If you discover that the item is defective after the package is opened, a full refund or replacement will still be granted.)

From the Best Buy return policy:

Opened computer software, movies, music and video games
(To get credit for these items, they must be unopened. If the original is damaged or defective, please see details below).

So why the big deal? Because I was so excited about The Complete New Yorker coming out. I love the New Yorker. It is absolutely my favorite magazine. This morning I read an article about butterflies, mosquitos and global warming - a scientific tale artfully told with all the drama of a novel. The New Yorker at its best. When I learned the Complete New Yorker was coming out, I was so thrilled at the prospect of reading the John Seabrook personal history of Seabrook Farms. I remember it from ten years ago as being as good as social history ever is. I didn't get to reading it and I am sending my Complete New Yorker back to Ed Klaris. I got it on the hard drive - which is what I was trying to do - but I can't live with the spyware aspect. It is insulting. I'm done.

As my friend Hudson said upon reading my travails, 'They took something from you.'

UPDATE: Smarter than I, Gustaf posted a detailed How-To on installing all the issues to your harddrive. Thanks, Gustaf!