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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 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
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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