Guilty Pleasures

Last night, I finished reading Patti Smith’s wonderful memoir about her years with the artist, Robert Mapplethorpe, Just Kids. I’ve been reading it for the past week on an iPad on loan from work. The copy of book was courtesy of the New York Public Library’s subscription to OverDrive. In light of my post yesterday in which I expressed my frustration with HarperCollins’ newly announced policy that ebooks borrowed 26 times from a library’s OverDrive service will evaporate from that library’s ebook collection, it was most distressing to me to realize as I got to the last page of the book last night that what I had been reading and enjoying on my iPad for the past week was a HarperCollins ebook on OverDrive. My checkout of the book, courtesy of the always amazing New York Public Library, was one of the 26 that the library has been allotted for that title.

With each checkout in OverDrive, that fantastic book is one step closer to being erased from the library’s ebook collection. My pleasurable reading is now tinged with guilt (yes, there is a repressed Calvinist in me frequently strugging to ruin my enjoyment of anything fun in life). Still, as a librarian patron I shouldn’t have to feel this way, and I shouldn’t feel compelled (as I do now) to go make a small donation to NYPL earmarked for acquisitions. (I did in fact give them money this morning for that very reason).

Update (11:35 am, 2 March 2011): It was pointed out to me that the 26 circ and its gone policy is not a retroactive policy and will only affect titles purchased going forward. Details on this PDF of the letter that OverDrive CEO, Steve Potash, sent out last week.

eBook User’s Bill of Rights

In the early 1990s, I acquired and edited new titles for Basic Books, which was at the time an imprint at HarperCollins. When I read the news last week that HarperCollins wants to limit the number of checkouts on their ebooks in OverDrive, I was incensed at my former employer. I’m still thinking through the calls for a boycott of HarperCollins, but in the meanwhile I can wholeheartedly support the eBook User’s Bill of Rights that is being widely circulated.


The eBook 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.

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