A Bit about E-Books

A bit about E-Books, Ownership & Issues

The legal gray area around e-books is changing again, and some of the less than positive changes have come home for my local libraries in Maine.  Maine has a download library consortium and we’ve recently decided to switch providers for a number of reasons both good and bad.  With this switch (from Overdrive to Bibliotheca), comes a bunch of new legality and transfer nightmares.  One of which is the focus of this post.

How much of the current Download Library collection will transfer to the new platform?

Our current Download Library Collection will be transferred to the new platform with a few exceptions. The vast majority of our collection will be able to be moved to new licenses within the cloud Library system. The exceptions are primarily items that were purchased previously, but are no longer available for licensing due to publisher restrictions on availability. The more recently the titles were purchased the more likely they will transfer.”

OK so for those that will read this and don’t know this already…Technically when you buy and e-book you don’t own it.  You’re leasing rights to use it from the publisher. (There are a few publishers who don’t follow this *cheers*.)  So when you change platforms, devices, or software and try to move your e-book collection over you may find that some of the items won’t transfer because the licensing they were released under doesn’t allow it.  So basically you’ve purchased an e-book and now you can no longer read it because the publishers says they don’t want to update, migrate, allow you to do so…or whatever other reason they decide to toss in.   This is all because e-books are treated as software and not as books under copyright law.

The most famous instance of this so far was Amazon (ironically) pulling the title 1984 from its devices. This was due to the distributing publisher not actually having the rights to distribute the e-books. Amazon was sued over this and did give refunds and a settlement to the suing parties, but this only highlights the fact that e-books are currently different animals from normal books.

Now I get it this is the publishers’ way of preventing mass hacking, copying, and distribution of their intellectual property.  I’d be angry if someone was stealing from me too, but if I legally bought something from them I’d expect to be able to use that item for as long as I want and on any device I want.

The good news is that this is starting to change.  EU (European Union) court just ruled that e-books should be treated as normal books not software when it comes to libraries lending items.  This is a big shift for our fellow librarians in Europe who now have a lot less gray in their legality governing e-books.  I can only hope that this ruling with push a similar ruling through here in the US.

American libraries had a great article about the future of e-books, libraries, and bookstores too.

So I’m crossing my fingers that the law will eventually catch up to the technology and allow libraries, and individual people, to do what they want with e-books after they’ve purchased them.


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