Thoughts On the Microsoft Reader Format (.LIT)

This started from a discussion on about the monthly free eBook for registered members, The Buried Pyramid by Jane Lindskold.

Artanian asked about a version for Microsoft Reader (since the formats offered, while including ePub, Mobipocket, PDF, and HTML, did not offer the LIT format), which isn’t going to be offered because the free eBooks department is a one-man machine and Pablo, while all things wonderful, is still just one man.

At some point, because I can’t shut up sometimes ((When it doesn’t involve licenses, NDAs, gag orders, company secrets, and lawyers. I don’t like getting sued.)) , I offered my thoughts on yaoi .LIT. Mostly I noted that there were a lot of tools out there to read and write every other format for eBooks, and many tools to read a .LIT, but suspiciously very, very few (by which I mean “all owned by Microsoft, even if they’re free”) that actually write in .LIT format.

At some point Artanian actually digs up the licensing terms for the Microsoft Reader SDK, which include:

“Distribution Terms. You may reproduce and distribute an unlimited number of copies of the Sample Code and/or Redistributable Code (collectively “Redistributable Components”) as described above in object code form, provided that (a) you distribute the Redistributable Components only in conjunction with and as a part of your Application; (b) your Application adds significant and primary functionality to the Redistributable Components; (c) you distribute your Application containing the Redistributable Components pursuant to an End-User License Agreement (which may be “break-the-seal”, “click-wrap” or signed), with terms no less protective than those contained herein; (d) you do not permit further redistribution of the Redistributable Components by your end-user customers; (e) you do not use Microsoft’s name, logo, or trademarks to market your Application except and unless as provided under a separate license program agreement between you and Microsoft; (f) you include a valid copyright notice on your Application; and (g) you agree to indemnify, hold harmless, and defend Microsoft from and against any claims or lawsuits, including attorneys’ fees, that arise or result from the use or distribution of your Application. Contact Microsoft for the applicable licensing terms for all other uses and/or distribution of the Redistributable Components.

(Bolding mine.)

Artanian remarks, and I agree, “(c) and (d) are probably the sticking parts, although as a small software developer (g) bugs me a lot more. If I were to throw together a tool to do the conversion, (g) would prevent me from releasing it as a freeware tool.”

rickg then remarked that (g) is more or less par for the course for what the license covers, to keep people from publishing illegal eBooks using the .LIT format.

At which point I knew my answer would be overflowing, so I just made a short comment there but linking here, where all my thoughts on yaoi are exposed:

(g) is still extremely uncommon for a license. I develop software for a living. Normally you say “yo, we givin’ you dis, we ain’t got NOTHIN’ to do with it if you gets into trouble with it, our responsibility ends HERE.” You don’t say, “we don’t let goes of responsibility but really youse pays the annoying legal bits.”

That license term basically says that Microsoft owns whatever tool uses that library, in name if not in royalties, without saying that they actually own it, and without the more hassling of legal responsibilities when it comes to actual ownership. It’s NOT real ownership, but it’s basically ownership.

Man. That’s ingenious. It’s brilliant.

Even if you created a program that wasn’t free, there’s no guarantee enough people will actually buy it to make the possible risk worth it. Microsoft has even undercut the biggest market, small users, with the free Word macro, which increases the risk something-fold.

Technically, this means that Microsoft has won in terms of ownership of the Microsoft Reader format. This is how you do it. Amazing.

On the other hand, I’m amused because of two things:

1. Most tool writers seem to have backed away slooowly and chosen some other format to generate. This has resulted in some amount of marginalization of the format.

2. Microsoft Reader is still one of the most common formats used in pirated eBooks.

The irony. It is epic.

And yes, it is actually much more interesting and fulfilling to read the book (which has hieroglyphs!) than to discuss this niggly point in the realm of eBook creation, but… what can I say. Sometimes I’m extremely short-sighted. So download and read The Buried Pyramid; thus far, it’s much more intriguing, even to a geek like me.

4 thoughts on “Thoughts On the Microsoft Reader Format (.LIT)

  1. After following the thread at I decided to take what I learned from writing lit2oeb for calibre and try my hand at an MS-free ‘oeb2lit’. The format is incredibly baroque — with all sorts of indices and cross-references to help out lower-powered devices — which possibly explains why no one else has done it. I’m 99.9% of the way there, and should be releasing something soon.

    The LIT-for-piracy thing I agree is quite odd. I grabbed a multi-GB torrent of pirated e-books to stress-test lit2oeb with and found that almost 90% of the LIT books were made with the Word plugin, effectively nullifying most of the benefits of the format.

  2. Hi Marshall,

    The format’s internal bits sounded a bit… interesting, from all accounts. Good luck, for it’s always the last few percent that get you. And I’ll have to take a look at calibre.

    I suspect LIT ends up being the most often used format because Word is cheap and most people don’t like to write HTML by hand. I don’t like writing HTML by hand. (Hence much scriptage.)

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