FSF Prioritizes Creation of a Free-Software eBook Reader, Urges Avoiding DRM eBooks

Since most ebook readers run some version of the kernel Linux (with some even run the GNU/Linux operating system), “This puts ebook readers a few steps closer to freedom than other devices,” notes a recent call-to-action in the Free Software Foundation Bulletin.

But with e-ink screens and DRM-laden ebooks, “closing the gap will still require a significant amount of work.”

Accordingly, as we announced at the LibrePlanet 2021 conference, we’ve decided this year to prioritize facilitating the process for an ebook reader to reach the high standards of our Respects Your Freedom (RYF) hardware certification program, whether this means adapting an existing one from a manufacturer, or even contracting its production ourselves…

The free software community has made some good strides in the area of freeing ebooks. Denis “GNUToo” Carikli has composed a page on the LibrePlanet wiki documenting the components of ebook readers and other single-board computers; this has laid the groundwork for our investigation into releasing an ebook reader, and is one of the wiki’s more active projects. Also, earlier in the year, a user on the libreplanet-discuss mailing list documented their project to port Parabola GNU/Linux to the reMarkable tablet, thereby creating a free ebook reader at the same time. It’s steps like these that make us feel confident that we can bring an ebook reader that respects its user’s freedom to the public, both in terms of hardware and the software that’s shipped with the device…

If the FSF is successful in landing RYF certification on an ebook reader, which I fully believe we will be, we can ensure that users will have the ability to read digitally while retaining their freedom.

It’s up to all of us to make sure we have the right to read, by avoiding ebook DRM in each and every case, and celebrating free (as in freedom) resources like Wikibooks and the Internet Archive, bridging the divide between the movement for free software and the movement for free culture, empowering both readers and computer users around the globe.
The article also warns that ebook DRM has gotten more restrictive over the years. “It’s common for textbooks to now require a constant and uninterrupted Internet connection, and that they load only a discrete number of pages at a time… Even libraries fell victim to ‘lending’ services like Canopy, putting an artificial lock on digital copies of books, the last place it makes sense for them to be.”

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