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Austrian Professor Creates Kindle E-Book Copier With Lego Mindstorms

timothy posted about 7 months ago | from the goldbergian-librarian dept.

Books 61

An anonymous reader writes "Using a Lego Mindstorms set, a Mac, and optical character recognition, Austrian professor Peter Purgathofer created a makeshift ebook copier. From the article: 'It's sort of a combination of high tech meets low. The scanning is done by way of the Mac's iSight camera. The Mindstorms set does two things: Hits the page-advance button on the Kindle (it appears to be an older model, like the one in the picture above), then mashes the space bar on the Mac, causing it to take a picture.' Purgathofer calls the creation a 'reflection on the loss of long established rights.' Check out the Vimeo video for a demonstration."

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61 comments

New legislation will solve this problem. (4, Funny)

Culture20 (968837) | about 7 months ago | (#44783581)

Legislation to remove the analog holes above the nose and replace then with HDCP approved hardware.

Re:New legislation will solve this problem. (2)

_xeno_ (155264) | about 7 months ago | (#44783749)

That sounds overcomplicated. Clearly the correct solution is to fix the camera by adding yellow dots [wikipedia.org] to the eBooks so that the camera will know not to take pictures of them.

Re:New legislation will solve this problem. (2)

nurb432 (527695) | about 7 months ago | (#44783777)

Or just ban lego.

Re:New legislation will solve this problem. (1)

cruff (171569) | about 7 months ago | (#44784177)

Or just ban lego.

Nooooo! Think of the children!

Re:New legislation will solve this problem. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44785615)

Playing with lego seriously increases risk of becoming an engineer, and 10/10 rich people recommend against it.

Re:New legislation will solve this problem. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44783795)

Legislation to remove the analog holes above the nose and replace then with HDCP approved hardware.

Hands off my a-hole!

how long before he get's sued / page taken down? (1)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | about 7 months ago | (#44783585)

how long before he get's sued / page taken down?

Re:how long before he get's sued / page taken down (1, Redundant)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about 7 months ago | (#44783607)

Sooner than that, he'll be grabbed by CIA and kidnapped to Gitmo for harming US national security.

Re:how long before he get's sued / page taken down (1)

Mathinker (909784) | about 7 months ago | (#44789157)

Well, I proposed doing this 4 years ago [slashdot.org] and all I got was +4 Funny for my (I admit not quite Herculean) efforts.

On the other hand, actually doing it, for the express point of showing how ebook DRM has no real effect on preventing piracy but only hurts the consumer, is much more damaging to the publishing industry. So, it comes down to whether the people who have the big red [GO LEGAL] button in front of them have heard about the Streisand Effect.

Re:how long before he get's sued / page taken down (1)

wwphx (225607) | about 7 months ago | (#44813641)

I just finished re-reading the Vorkosigan series by Lois McMasters Bujold, and Miles uses a similar technique to tracelessly access secure information from his cousins' office half a planet away. His cousin turned his secure console to face his non-secure console's camera so Miles could read the info that he needed.

There is nothing new under the sun, or at least nothing new that isn't covered by at least a dozen patents.

why? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44783603)

Can't you just use the cloud reader and take screenshots? No robot is necessary.

Re:why? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44783647)

It's an art project. It says so in the description. RTFA! :-P

Re: why? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44783673)

What are you talking about? Robots and/or Legos are always necessary.

Peter Purgathofer (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44783625)

The lectures of Peter Purgathofer were one of the reasons I stopped studying computer science in Vienna around 15 years ago. Which in retrospect was big luck, since I changed to chemistry and found my calling there. Thank you, Peter!

The second reason was a most boring lecture I ever attended, "Work sociology and organization psychology", held by a crazy women. I kid you not! No wonder real scientists are looking down on people studying "computer science" in Vienna. The people actually doing computer science are all at the mathematics faculty.

Captcha: undoes :)

Re:Peter Purgathofer (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44783801)

In newsrooms, the sports desk is generally referred to as the "toy department". Maybe CS is starting to get that reputation in the engineering wing of universities.

Re:Peter Purgathofer (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44788863)

Currently his lectures are the best ones at the faculty.
Where the math people only feed solvers and jizz their pants, if they manage to do it without syntax errors on the 10th try.

Looks like times have changed since 15 years ago ;)

Sigh... (2, Insightful)

jones_supa (887896) | about 7 months ago | (#44783667)

I had to read the summary a couple of times and was still left wondering why would one need that fancy machine to copy e-books -- why not just copy the files, I thought. Then the three letters "DRM" popped in my mind and I realized that he had to construct that all to just circumvent that stupid protection. Ah well, at least that was probably a fun project to work on.

Re: Sigh... (0)

tysonedwards (969693) | about 7 months ago | (#44783719)

Except (at least 6 months ago) Amazon's DRM was very easy to get around. All you needed was a plugin for Calibre and you were set. Still, it seems that even with this guy's physical contraption it is still easier to copy an ebook than it is to copy the physical alternative. I mean, even the route that he took, he could still just set the Kindle on top of a photo copier and duplicate the pages that way. The key thing that was lost in the digital book revolution is the ability to lend.

Re: Sigh... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44783821)

You can lend e-books, and you can borrow them from your local library.

Re: Sigh... (1)

brit74 (831798) | about 7 months ago | (#44783833)

The key thing that was lost in the digital book revolution is the ability to lend.

Lend or Borrow Kindle Books
You can lend a Kindle book to another reader for up to 14 days. The borrower does not need to own a Kindle device and can read the book after downloading a free Kindle reading app.
http://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html?nodeId=200549320 [amazon.com]

Re: Sigh... (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44784073)

I think you missed the point of what the poster meant. The only reason you are allowed to lend ebooks is so amazon can trump the argument and establish dominance over physical book purchases. Once they have a large enough market share they can take the lending function away to increase sales. Nobody can ever stop you from lending a physical book. Its a matter of control of your own life.

Re:Sigh... (1)

AngryNick (891056) | about 7 months ago | (#44783789)

why would one need that fancy machine to copy e-books

The description from TFV says this was an art project to provoke thought, not a serious attempt to beat DRM.

Kindle Readers and DRM aside for a moment, this combination of automated Legos and stop motion photography may require some exploration...

Re:Sigh... (1)

Obfuscant (592200) | about 7 months ago | (#44787343)

Kindle Readers and DRM aside for a moment, this combination of automated Legos and stop motion photography may require some exploration...

It's not "stop motion photography". It's a simple snapshot. It's trivial to automate, and the hardware is also very simple.

Re:Sigh... (1)

boristhespider (1678416) | about 7 months ago | (#44783923)

Others have already pointed out he did it as an art project (I admit my first response to this was also "What the fuck is the point in that?"). If you want to avoid DRM on eBooks and for some masochistic reason don't want to simply strip it - the widely-used systems are almost laughably easy to remove if you want to - it would be far easier to just take screencaps, and far more accurate since then you get a pixel-perfect representation of the page, with the subsequent improvement in OCR.

Re:Sigh... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44784025)

Yes, now.
But in the not-so-far future, you will not be able to take screenshots of DRMed material.

Re: Sigh... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44787937)

Says YOUR operating system vendor.

Re: Sigh... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44788245)

Whereas no applications on YOUR operating system will be able to view the DRMed material at all.

Re:Sigh... (4, Insightful)

plover (150551) | about 7 months ago | (#44784113)

The point of an art project is to get other people to recognize the problem. Ordinary people don't know they're buying DRM. They just think they're "buying e-books", but they have no understanding what that means. Their only experience with DRM is when they think about sharing the book with someone else, and then they only dimly realize the problem when they can't find a menu option labeled "make a copy for my friend".

This puts a clumsy bunch of Lego out there, making motor noises, and getting people thinking "why is he doing all that crap?"

Austrian? (1)

bmo (77928) | about 7 months ago | (#44783691)

Then why is it powered by a kangaroo?

"But they'll be dead soon. Fucking kangaroos."

--
BMO

Such even spacing of pressing (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44783709)

I'm surprised this works at all. The electronic book system I'm using (not kindle) shuts down your account if your "page viewing is too regular". To get this to work really well, you'd need to throw in some random delays just like a human reading.

Re:Such even spacing of pressing (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44783851)

The electronic book system I'm using (not kindle) shuts down your account if your "page viewing is too regular".

Without a name, you are just spewing bullshit.. GTFO! You damn troll!

Cloud-based OCR? Really? (3, Insightful)

Announcer (816755) | about 7 months ago | (#44783717)

OK, how long will it take until the DRM running on the "cloud" OCR provider recognizes what's going on, and puts a stop to this? The Mac should be capable of running a local OCR. What happens at home stays at home... what happens "in the cloud" is everyone's business.

Overall, this would be a cool thing to set up... start it, go to work, then come home and have the whole book on your laptop. Just get rid of the "cloud middleman".

Re:Cloud-based OCR? Really? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44784263)

I'm thinking cloud OCR is not electronic....

Re:Cloud-based OCR? Really? (2)

Em Adespoton (792954) | about 7 months ago | (#44784363)

OK, how long will it take until the DRM running on the "cloud" OCR provider recognizes what's going on, and puts a stop to this? The Mac should be capable of running a local OCR. What happens at home stays at home... what happens "in the cloud" is everyone's business.

Overall, this would be a cool thing to set up... start it, go to work, then come home and have the whole book on your laptop. Just get rid of the "cloud middleman".

As others have mentioned, this is totally unecessary to get around the DRM -- if you've purchased the eBook, you've got the key and can just strip the DRM yourself. You can do your entire eBook collection in under 5 minutes. This is purely to make a statement regarding DRM and the analog hole.

Re:Cloud-based OCR? Really? (1)

nashv (1479253) | about 7 months ago | (#44786161)

His Mac should be able to run DeDRM and finish the job in about ..let see...a few hundred milliseconds.

It is ironic, that his art is finding artistic value because of its sheer inelegance.

Easier way (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44783771)

Write a small program to flip the pages on the Windows version and take screenshots.

Re:Easier way (1)

jma05 (897351) | about 7 months ago | (#44784285)

Exactly what I was thinking. There are plenty of FOSS GUI automation tools (Eg: AutoIt) and libraries (Eg: pywinauto) for most of the popular languages that this is much easier to do entirely in software. I get it. He wanted a cute project. But he cannot possibly pitch this as utilitarian. The article calls it a "low-tech approach". Building robots isn't.

Now, if he made a hobby robot that flips pages of an actual book and took photos, I might be more curious.

Calibre and Apprentice Alf (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44783785)

Rube Goldberg would be proud. But there are much easier way to get the job done.

Re:Calibre and Apprentice Alf (1)

gweihir (88907) | about 7 months ago | (#44785011)

Indeed. The real story here is "Austrian professor has no clue and builds overly complex, slow and fault-prone system to solve problem already solved".

Long Established Right? (1, Troll)

brit74 (831798) | about 7 months ago | (#44783843)

Purgathofer calls the creation a 'reflection on the loss of long established rights.'

The right to make a copy of a book and instantly send it to a million other people all around the world without the author or publisher receiving anything for their work?

Re:Long Established Right? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44784181)

I wonder if copyright even applies to things that technically can't be copied? Or is the intention of DRM to make copying more difficult but not impossible?

Re:Long Established Right? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44784191)

Publisher's work for an ebook isn't much compared to producing hardcopies.

Re:Long Established Right? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44786221)

Publisher's work for an ebook isn't much compared to producing hardcopies.

The publisher's work is almost exactly the same for any kind of book. Their costs include things like: finding the work, setting up a contract with the author(s), possibly paying advances against royalties, tracking progress of the manuscript, editing and handholding during the writing process, copy-editing and proofreading, obtaining rights to any photos or other 3rd party material, finding a suitable commercial artist (if sketches need to be turned into nice drawings) and paying for the artwork, page layout, creating an index (often done by contractors), arranging press tours, and marketing. I'm sure there are more items on this list, any book is a large project and takes a team to pull together.

As an engineering textbook author, I greatly appreciate the services provided by my publisher. Note that our first book has stayed in the first edition (only minor typo fixes) through 14 printings since 1995. We are not part of the mass textbook market that churns the students with new editions. For our book, we specified (and got) a durable binding that will last under years of heavy use, not a cheap "textbook binding" that is designed to fall apart in one school year.

The bit that is different with an ebook is there is no need for printing and binding which is typically done by a specialty company (or two separate companies) with large printing presses and binding machinery. Two other bits that are different with print are a warehouse to stock the physical books and fulfillment (pack and ship physical books to stores or customers).

Re:Long Established Right? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44787191)

The cost for the original is similar. The cost for each additional copy, otherwise known as the marginal cost of production, is much, much lower for a book file than for a printed book. The latter is what determines the price of something in a competitive market.

Depending on how the printed book was produced in the first place, the cost to convert an existing printed book to an e-book can vary wildly, from nearly zero if it was authored as an e-book first, to several times more than the original cost if the originals are hard to find and usually in poor condition.

Despite all that, the costs associated with a SINGLE COPY of a book are much lower for e-books than for paper. So people naturally expect to be able to buy them at lower prices. When the price of an e-book is HIGHER than a physical print copy, we naturally wonder where all that additional money is going.

Re:Long Established Right? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44784215)

The copyright maximalist would say:

We need to prevent this kind of banditry and to do that we need to make it so that no software can be installed by the user that isn't approved by a licensed and bonded authority and that no data can be kept locally so it is available at all times to the authorities for inspection for IP rights violations and the user's physical location while connected is maintained in a central database so that the authorities may properly locate and punish intellectual property violations. Anything else is endorsing lawless behavior

Re:Long Established Right? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44784319)

No, but the right to copy the book for personal use. If you live in a third world shithole where the consumer does not have such rights, then it sucks to be you. Sorry.

Re:Long Established Right? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44784527)

Wait, I missed the part where he sends it to a million other people all around the world. Are you sure he did that? Oh, wait, it's copyright. Yeah, assume away.

jakdown (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44783949)

Except (at least 6 months ago) Amazon's DRM was very easy to get around. All you needed was a plugin for Calibre and you were set. Still, it seems that even with this guy's physical contraption it is still easier to copy an ebook than it is to copy the physical alternative. I mean, even the route that he took, he could still just set the Kindle on top of a photo copier and duplicate the pages that way. The key thing that was lost in the digital book revolution is the ability to lend.

I thought (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44784135)

calibre plus the right plugin could already do that

captain hindsight (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44784295)

If you didn't want DRM'ed ebooks, you shouldn't have bought a DRM'ed ebook! You have the right to invest your money as you see fit. You don't have the right to break a contract with Amazon, which you signed willingly, by copying a kindle-ebook. The marked really works as easy as that: buy that, which you value and don't buy which you don't.

Re:captain hindsight (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44784431)

You don't have the right to break a contract with Amazon, which you signed willingly, by copying a kindle-ebook. .

Wrong! In Austria you have the right to copy content _for_personal_purposes_. If the contract with Amazon says differently, then it is invalid under Austrian law. It will probably surprise you, but the world does not end at the borders of your country.

Geez... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44784631)

Geez, Calibre for Mac + a plugin would be a lot easier and *much* quicker.

But DRM isn't about piracy... (4, Insightful)

dpbsmith (263124) | about 7 months ago | (#44784909)

Amusing, of course, but irrelevant, because DRM isn't about piracy, and it certainly isn't about rewarding content creators, it's about preventing competition.

As long as you can't read an Amazon Kindle on a Nook, DRM is doing its job. If Nooks and Barnes and Noble are getting driven out of business, DRM is doing its job well.

An automated eBook scanner doesn't do anything to make the eBook business more competitive.

Re:But DRM isn't about piracy... (1)

tlhIngan (30335) | about 7 months ago | (#44788095)

As long as you can't read an Amazon Kindle on a Nook, DRM is doing its job. If Nooks and Barnes and Noble are getting driven out of business, DRM is doing its job well.

Or you go legislative - aka get the DoJ to remove a competitor for you. The DoJ has effectively tore up Apple's contracts with publishers, and Apple is only allowed to negotiate with one publisher every 6 months, starting 6 months from now.

So now, Amazon has one less competitor for the next 6 months. And that competition is forced to only have one publisher then, so it's reduced competition for the next 2-3 years. Not a bad deal - Nook and B&N are on thin ice, and the other potentially big competitor is gone. If you can get rid of Nook in the next 12 months, you can jack up prices because there will be no one else selling ebooks other than Amazon.

And already I've seen Kindle prices higher than Nook prices. And many Kindle-only books and many self-publishers get very special deals if they go exclusive.

Kindle DRM is weak (1)

Karmashock (2415832) | about 7 months ago | (#44787887)

I download kindle books all the time but I don't have a kindle. I download them to my PC, strip the DRM off of them as you can do with ANY DRM. DRM is garbage the instant the content is on your machine and ANY portion of your system has the ability to decrypt the file. Well, my kindle PC reader can read the files. Which means the encryption key is on my machine. Which means all the software has to do is find the key, use it, and then I can convert the file to anything I want.

No special equipment needed and it takes about 2 minutes to convert it from a kindle file to whatever I want.

I once used a printer and a camera (1)

PaddyM (45763) | about 7 months ago | (#44787915)

One day I was looking at a pile of papers from school I was thinking about saving digitally and recycling. But I didn't have a scanner, and I sure wasn't about to go buy one. But I did have a printer. So I used some DOS command to print a blank document, and I put my papers in the feed. And then I had a Canon camera which I aimed at the output of the printer. I then wrote a script that would print, and then sleep, and then take a picture. The only trouble was that it took about 30 seconds to get everything situated. And at that rate, it would probably take 2 years to scan all that I had. So ultimately, I threw away those papers.

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