iBooks Author: You Can Sell Your “Work” Elsewhere, Just Not In The Format Created By iBooks Author [Opinion]

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There’s been a lot of fuss overnight about what exactly Apple is claiming ownership of in the Terms and Conditions associated with its new iBooks Author application for Mac. The fuss is understandable, because the wording of the license agreement gets a little bit muddy.

Here’s the relevant section from the iBooks Author Publishing and Distribution FAQ:

Q: Can I distribute works created with iBooks Author as part of a product or service that charges a subscription-based fee?
A: Books created with iBooks Author may not be sold as part of a subscription-based product or service. iBooks Author books must be distributed free of charge or made available for sale via the iBookstore.

Note the careful wording of “works created with iBooks Author”, “Books created with iBooks Author”, and “iBooks Author books”. They all refer, very specifically, to the finished product you create with iBooks Author.

Now, here’s the preceding item from that same FAQ:

Q: I’m an author (or publisher). Can I distribute this work on my own website?
A: You may distribute books created in iBooks Author free of charge on your own website. If you wish to sell your book, you must do so through the iBookstore.

What isn’t clear here is the difference between what Apple calls a book, and what (for want of a better word), I’ll call the text. The book is the finished product. The text are the words you wrote that go inside it.

In this FAQ, Apple doesn’t do a very good job of clarifying this crucial difference. But it is clarified in the application’s license agreement (which you can get to from its About box).

A note right at the top of the license agreement says:

If you charge a fee for any book or other work you generate using this software (a “Work”), you may only sell or distribute such Work through Apple (e.g., through the iBookstore) and such distribution will be subject to a separate agreement with Apple.

So, the thing Apple calls a book or a Work is the completed, formatted file that is generated by iBooks Author. That’s the thing you can only sell through the iBookStore.

But: the text remains yours. The unformatted raw text that you slaved over in Word or Scrivener or BBEdit or whatever you use to write in – that text is yours to reformat in another application, resulting in a file of a different format, which you’re free to sell elsewhere if you wish.

So, in summary:

  • A “Work” = a thing you make in iBooks Author, using text, images, video, and whatever else you want to use
  • That “Work” results in a specific file in a specific format
  • That file can only be sold through the iBookstore, but can be given away for free elsewhere
  • The individual elements that make up the “Work” – including the text of the book – remain yours. You can use another application to create a very similar digital book, and you can sell that book in other book stores

Dan Wineman is right when he says that Apple is claiming a right to this software’s output. But don’t misread that to mean that Apple is claiming all rights to the written text that makes up a part (albeit the larger part) of that finished work.

At least, that’s my understanding of it all. I might be wrong. Please don’t tell me I’m wrong; my brain hurts enough already.