The Fine Print of iBooks Author

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Yesterday, with great fanfare, Apple rolled out two new applications iBooks 2, with new features aimed at students; and iBooks Author, which allows individuals to create iPad-optimized ebooks. Both applications are targeted to the textbook market, and Apple is billing iBooks Author as a textbook-creation utility–but essentially it’s a free self-publishing platform that can be used by anyone (as long as they have a Mac).

With one-click and drag and drop utility, accessibility features that let you accomodate people with disabilities, and the ability to include photo galleries, video, interactive diagrams, 3D objects, and more, iBooks Author looks like a pretty cool app. But the devil is in the details–in this case, the End User License Agreement that users of the app agree to when they download the software.

Because I’m not a Mac user, I have to depend on other people’s analysis–such as this, from Mac developer Dan Wineman. According to Wineman, the EULA requires content creators who decide to sell the books they create with iBooks Author (as opposed to offering them for free, which imposes no restrictions) to give Apple a cut of the proceeds, and to sell exclusively via the iPad. As long as you’re OK with exclusivity (and a proprietary format that enforces it), that doesn’t sound bad, right?

Here’s the problem, though: because this requirement appears in the EULA, rather than as a separate agreement you can consider post-download, you are binding yourself to Apple’s terms simply by downloading the software, even though you may not have known the terms were there before you clicked the download button. Wineman says,

Apple, in this EULA, is claiming a right not just to its software, but to its software’s output. It’s akin to Microsoft trying to restrict what people can do with Word documents, or Adobe declaring that if you use Photoshop to export a JPEG, you can’t freely sell it to Getty. As far as I know, in the consumer software industry, this practice is unprecedented.


Apple also doesn’t guarantee to accept the books created with iBooks Author–which, as ZDNet’s Ed Bott points out, creates another issue:

The nightmare scenario under this agreement? You create a great work of staggering literary genius that you think you can sell for 5 or 10 bucks per copy. You craft it carefully in iBooks Author. You submit it to Apple. They reject it.

Under this license agreement, you are out of luck. They won’t sell it, and you can’t legally sell it elsewhere. You can give it away, but you can’t sell it.

To be clear, Apple is not claiming rights to your content–only to the product you create by using its software. You don’t lose your copyrights when you use iBooks Author; your text, and any other content you yourself create, remains yours, and you can use it however you wish–including selling it on another self-publishing platform (as long as all Apple formatting is stripped out).  Some commenters seem to feel that’s not so bad. As Frederic Lardinois of SiliconFilter writes:

Apple clearly defines ‘work’ as “any book or other work you generate using this software.” It’s the book Apple cares about – the final product the program generates, not the content you put into it.

iBooks Author is, in the end, just a tool for laying out your content so it looks nice on the iPad. Nobody is stopping any author or publisher from using another tool to sell the same content on another platform.

This seems at least somewhat analogous to regular publishing, where the publisher owns the rights to the book’s design and typesetting, and authors can’t re-use them–or the cover art–if they revert rights and publish elsewhere. On the other hand, publishers don’t claim rights to the editing that helped get the book ready for publication (unless you signed with a lousy publisher).

I usually conclude posts like this by saying something like “As always, the important thing is to read and understand the fine print.” That’s the case here too–the difference being that you can’t view the fine print of iBooks Author until after you’ve committed to the software. Even if you’re OK with that, authors need to carefully consider the ramifications of creating a work in a proprietary format that, if offered for sale, is limited to a single platform that currently lags far behind Amazon and Barnes & Noble in ebook market share.

7 Responses

  1. Mark Rivera

    Wow! I just tweeted this information out and e-mailed another writer. I don’t use a Macintosh, but would be devastated if the worst case scenario described above happened to me. Thank you so much for posting this.

  2. MrMysterioso

    Actually incorrect. The EULA states that a writer will enter in to a separate agreement for publication. True that the software must be used to publish through iBook, and Apple is already very clear that they take a cut of the profits, so I think Mr. Wineman overstated the case.

  3. Bud Webster

    Is it too much to say that this sucks? Frankly, I suspect we’ll see a lot more authors pulling their books in protest, and the first time a heay-hitter challenges, Apple will fold.

  4. Carol Cassella

    Note that, while Apple DOES allow you to keep the copyright on the content created within iBook, apparently removing that content (your 100K word novel) from the program so destroys the formatting you might as well start over. Any comments on this?

  5. Britt Griswold

    Downloading the software commits you to nothing at all. Just remove it from your hard drive and go find another tool. I agree Apple is trying to force you to use them as your publisher. And they use what? A free tool! if you don’t like it, go find another publisher with a different tool. Can’t find one? Well Apple gets some perks for being first to market with a cool free publishing tool.

    Don’t get bent out of shape. Get a Mac…

  6. Roger christie

    Actually, all it requires is that anything produces with THIS TOOL be sold exclusively through them. There is no restriction on preparing the same content with a different tool and selling it on the Kindle, Nook, etc.