The Mueller Report’s been out for a couple of days—long enough to have produced a number of stories of interest to TeleRead readers. The major news sites have done a pretty good job of covering the contents of the report, but that’s not really what this site is about. I’m more interested in the stories about the report itself—and I suspect you will be, too.
The Free Nook Version: Worth What You Pay For It
First, a bit of follow-up to the story I posted about the free Nook version of the Mueller Report. I downloaded and checked it out last night, and it turns out that all Barnes & Noble did was stick the government PDF in a Nook Reader wrapper—so it just looks exactly like the PDF on your reader, because that’s just what it is. So, it’s not any better for reading on a phone or small-screened e-reader than the PDF itself would be. It’s a bit of a disappointment, but then again, what can you expect for free?
(Well, you can expect something a little better for free from Amazon, as it turns out, as Amazon’s Audible will be providing a bare-bones audiobook recording of the Report for free. It’s unclear how they’ll handle the redactions and footnotes as yet; it might be worth listening just to find that out.)
If you want to read an e-reader-formatted version of the report, it looks like you’ll have to spring for one of the versions that costs money. The Alan Dershowitz version won’t be available until April 23, but a quick glance at the Kindle sample for the Washington Post version shows that this one has been OCRed and formatted for friendlier mobile device reading. And $7.99 doesn’t seem like a bad price for that amount of work, especially with the additional WaPo content added.
(I haven’t seen any indications that helpful ebook pirates have yet used their OCRing and proofing powers for good to offer their own free EPUB, Mobi, or other ebook-format version of the government PDF. If anyone else finds such a thing, please let the community know where in the comments. I imagine the Internet Archive might be somewhere good to look, but I don’t seem to see any there yet myself.)
Laughter is the Best Medicine
A little humor can provide a nice antidote to the current political wrangling over the Mueller Report’s ominous implications. In particular, Washington Post columnist Alexandra Petri offers a riotously funny take on the report, written in the style of a grade school book report. (May be paywalled, unfortunately.)
The Mueller Report” is about a man who wanted to find information, but really, I think, what he found was the American Dream. It is exactly like “The Great Gatsby,” a book about a man who pretends to have more money than he actually has and turns out to owe everything he has to sinister forces but for whom you ultimately feel pity because he is lonely even though he has a big house, in that both that book and this one are about a narrator who is trying to find out information about one thing and ultimately discovers something else.
Satire site Hard Drive offers a headline that is so perfectly of-the-moment that the article behind it is sadly anticlimactic: “Robert Mueller Offering Unredacted Report to His Patreon Subscribers.”
Audible Washington Post Edition: All’s Well that’s Orwell
And speaking of laughter, Amazon will price the Audible edition of the Mueller Report version with added Washington Post coverage at the perfectly on-the-nose discount price of $19.84. (At least, that’s what MarketWatch reports; checking the page myself shows it’s currently priced at $24.80 for pre-order, but perhaps the $19.84 price will only show up after it is actually released.) Jeff Bezos and Donald Trump are not exactly each other’s greatest fans, and this could be an amusing way for Bezos to fire another shot or two across Trump’s bow. But it could also be entirely coincidental, as a marketing exec from the publisher insists; $19.84 is exactly 20% off of $24.80, after all.
There doesn’t seem to be a whole lot in the report itself that’s directly relevant to 1984—it’s largely not about a police state or government surveillance—but there aren’t really many other messages about government malfeasance you could send in that price range. (They could have priced it at $21.12, but that would only be meaningful to Rush fans.) For those of us with longer memories, it’s also a little ironic, given that Jeff Bezos had to issue a personal apology when Amazon removed illicitly sold versions of 1984 and other Orwell books from some readers’ Kindles in 2009.
PDF Association: Guys, You’re Making Us Look Bad
The PDF Association has a few pointed remarks to make about the Mueller Report’s PDF release. It notes that this was released as compressed image PDFs with no associated text. This means it can’t be searched or reflowed, and the images are “noisy” with compression artifacts that make OCR a more difficult task. It also means the document isn’t compliant with Section 508 regulations concerning handicapped accessibility, which is unusual given that the Justice Department usually tries to make sure all its documents are Section 508 compliant.
The PDF Association speculates that the Justice Department might have received Mueller’s report in paper format rather than a clean electronic PDF version, or else printed it out and re-scanned it—perhaps to try to make sure that the redactions couldn’t be unredacted in software.
Of course, the PDF Association isn’t able to resist patting itself on the back, trumpeting the many benefits of the PDF format. It points out that nobody expected Barr to release the Mueller Report in anything but PDF. “No one would have even suggested a Word file, or a set of TIFF images, or a website, or an XPS file, or EPUB, or plain text.” The PDF format, it says, conveys authenticity, natively supports redaction, can be searched (usually), and is easy to use (usually). “Unfortunately, the image-based PDF the Department of Justice delivered is the least easy-to-use of any option they could have chosen.” Between the lines, the PDF Association seems to be rather grumpy with the Department of Justice for making the PDF format look bad with its half-assed release of the report.
Takedown, You’re Busted…Again
Remember that story the other day about the Internet Archive receiving hundreds of false-positive automated takedown requests from a French anti-terrorism government agency? Here’s another example of how automated takedowns can misfire.
Given how much demand there was for the Mueller Report after it was released, and how overloaded many sites offering it were, some civic-minded Scribd users uploaded it for people to get from there. Given that it was a government document, in the public domain, that shouldn’t have been a problem, right?
Wrong. Because the report was repackaged as a book by “a leading global publisher” (probably one of the two commercial ebooks I mention above), Scribd’s automated copyright takedown system falsely identified those uploads as copyrighted material and took them down. Scribd identified 32 copies of the report that were falsely taken down and subsequently reinstated.
On Gizmodo, Matt Novak writes:
Other internet platforms like YouTube have similar measures in place to flag materials that might violate copyright. But it’s not always the robots that are taking down perfectly acceptable material. Speaking from personal experience, I regularly have copyright trolls that claim ownership of public domain, government-created videos that I upload to my personal YouTube account. And there’s basically nothing I can do aside from contest the copyright claim and spend time providing evidence that it’s in the public domain.
Needless to say, this sort of thing makes Europe’s impending anti-terrorism automated takedown legislation seem even more worrying.
The Mueller Report is a fascinating document, to be sure, but I find some of stories about the report itself just as interesting as what’s in it. Unlike many ebooks we write about here, this one has the power to affect society profoundly, and I can hardly wait to see how it does that next.
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