Wednesday, March 2, 2011

E-book readers--what are your rights?

Do E-Book Users Need a Bill of Rights? (Librarians Think So) -- from the New York Times

HarperCollins, a large publisher, has placed new restrictions on e-book lending--a library that has licensed a title may only loan it 26 times before the file ceases to operate, and the library must buy the title again. This has caused an explosion of conversation about the nature of the medium, the rights of buyers, and the rights of the copyright holders.

On the side of the borrowers, e-books cost roughly the same--to us--as hardcovers, plus some maintenance fees. The only limit on a hardcover is how many circulations it can take before it falls apart (generally more than twenty-six). Is it fair or reasonable to charge several times for an electronic copy? And what about the DRM (Digital Rights Management) software, which is already limiting ownership on the part of the buyer? People have already put money down on their readers, and their tax money has already bought the book once. Shouldn't that be the property of the stakeholders, and not a capriciously loaned item, to be recalled at the previous owner's whim... possibly before the hold list has even been exhausted?

On the side of the creators and publishers, digital formats are far easier to copy and distribute widely--with no loss of quality--than traditional paper formats, which makes piracy inevitable. Futher, paper copies are often bought in bulk, which means paying for several copies, anyway, and some, due to accidents or malice, won't make even close to twenty-six circulations before a replacement becomes necessary--not a danger with e-books. Publishers are already in financial trouble... if they can't have some way to bring in profits, how can they stay in business and pay their authors? (Not every author gets Stephen King sized advances; most can't give up their day jobs.) If intellectual property can't be held in some manner--never mind the draconian measures being proposed in some quarters; this is a matter of any control at all--then how can creators be fairly compensated for their work?

Where do you stand? What are your thoughts on this subject? The library would very much like to know!

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