This is funny: Amazon has apparently just patented a “system and method for marking content,” in which the text of a e-book could be changed slightly with any particular download in order to distinguish that copy from other copies — so if the document is then let loose on the Internets, it could theoretically be tracked down to the source. It’s like watermarking, except that in doing so you’re changing the meaning of the text.
The patent suggests that “the modification to an excerpt performed by the synonym substitution mechanism may not significantly alter the meaning of the excerpt to a human reader,” which sounds just like the something that someone who doesn’t actually write in human languages for a living might suggest. Perhaps we should suggest we should go into this software engineer’s code and swap some of the code around. Oh, sure, it might not significantly alter the meaning of the code. But then let’s run it and see where it gets us.
There is some irony here in that Amazon patent replicates, in intent and general procedure, something called “Shades of Gray,” an idea by former vice president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. This former vice president, as it happens, didn’t actually write much, which to my mind would have explained his apparent befuddlement when people in SFWA who actually wrote for a significant portion of their living pointed out that actively corrupting their texts was not really a smart idea. Nothing much ever came of “Shades of Gray” — which is a story in itself — but it was a bad concept then, and it’s not any better of a concept in the somewhat more refined form Amazon has patented.
I certainly won’t be using it, in any event. Hard as it may be for Amazon to believe, I actually use the words I intend to use when I write. If I had wanted to use a different word for something, I already would have.
(hat tip: Slashdot)