The news that the publisher HarperCollins would be capping the number of times a library could lend a digital copy of a book to 26 has raised concerns – yet again – about the ramifications of our rush to embrace e-books. As one librarian, John Atzberger writes on his blog, the new model from HarperCollins “eliminates almost all the major advantages of the item’s being digital, without restoring the permanence, durability, vendor-independence, technology-neutrality, portability, transferability, and ownership associated with the physical version.”
Libraries may be on the front-lines of this latest battle, one that makes it clear that issues like DRM and lending policies can have troubling repercussions. Although the HarperCollins announcement impacts just lending through libraries, librarians are quick to point out that it isn’t simply their institutions that will suffer.
To that end, librarians have started issuing statements, posting an “e-book users bill of rights” to their blogs. The statement, posted in full below, addresses “the basic freedoms that should be granted to all e-book users.”
The Bill of Rights insists that users have access to their e-books – unrestrained by proprietary platforms – and can retain, archive, annotate, share, and resell their e-books. Many of those actions are forbidden if not restricted by e-books.
Should Libraries Avoid DRM Content?
The librarians’ statement challenges the use of Digital Rights Management (DRM) which makes possessing an e-book a lot less like ownership and a lot more like licensing or subscription. As author Cory Doctorow notes in his story on the HarperCollins e-book lending policy, DRM media is “unsafe at any speed.”
I mean it. When HarperCollins backs down and says, “Oh, no, sorry, we didn’t mean it, you can have unlimited ebook checkouts,” the libraries’ answers should be “Not good enough. We want DRM-free or nothing.” Stop buying DRM ebooks. Do you think that if you buy twice, or three times, or ten times as many crippled books that you’ll get morenegotiating leverage with which to overcome abusive crap like this? Do you think that if more of your patrons come to rely on you for ebooks for their devices, that DRM vendors won’t notice that your relevance is tied to their product and tighten the screws?
HarperCollins isn’t the first time that access to e-books have been retracted. Amazon set off an uproar several years ago when it summarily deleted Kindle users’ copies of George Orwell books.
Is DRM the price we pay to move to digital content? Is it a necessary move in order to convince publishers that their products are (relatively) safe from piracy? Or is this price too high, closing down access to information, art, and literature?
The E-Book User’s Bill of Rights
Every eBook user should have the following rights:
- the right to use eBooks under guidelines that favor access over proprietary limitations
- the right to access eBooks on any technological platform, including the hardware and software the user chooses
- the right to annotate, quote passages, print, and share eBook content within the spirit of fair use and copyright
- the right of the first-sale doctrine extended to digital content, allowing the eBook owner the right to retain, archive, share, and re-sell purchased eBooks
I believe in the free market of information and ideas.
I believe that authors, writers, and publishers can flourish when their works are readily available on the widest range of media. I believe that authors, writers, and publishers can thrive when readers are given the maximum amount of freedom to access, annotate, and share with other readers, helping this content find new audiences and markets. I believe that eBook purchasers should enjoy the rights of the first-sale doctrine because eBooks are part of the greater cultural cornerstone of literacy, education, and information access.
Digital Rights Management (DRM), like a tariff, acts as a mechanism to inhibit this free exchange of ideas, literature, and information. Likewise, the current licensing arrangements mean that readers never possess ultimate control over their own personal reading material. These are not acceptable conditions for eBooks.
I am a reader. As a customer, I am entitled to be treated with respect and not as a potential criminal. As a consumer, I am entitled to make my own decisions about the eBooks that I buy or borrow.
I am concerned about the future of access to literature and information in eBooks. I ask readers, authors, publishers, retailers, librarians, software developers, and device manufacturers to support these eBook users’ rights.
These rights are yours. Now it is your turn to take a stand. To help spread the word, copy this entire post, add your own comments, remix it, and distribute it to others. Blog it, Tweet it (#ebookrights), Facebook it, email it, and post it on a telephone pole.