Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Open Letter to Cory Doctorow

Open Letter to Cory Doctorow

In your post about the HarperCollins situation you wrote this:

And that's why libraries should just stop buying DRM media for their collections. Period. It's 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 more negotiating 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?

There is a point I think you are missing. Many librarians do not just want DRM free books. They want to OWN the book you sell them. When they OWN the book they can sell the copy they bought or give it to someone else. For one of your books why not go beyond the Creative Commons license and create an ebook version that when sold is the equivalent of a print book? If someone buys one copy of the ebook they should have the right to sell one copy of the ebook. If they sell their copy they should not have a copy after the sale. This would require them to delete the copy they have, once they have made a sale and transferred a copy to another individual. This new purchaser would then OWN the copy of the book and could also sell their copy.

I think it would be an interesting experiment to see what it actually means to have first sale rights in an ebook.

Libraries demand their rights. What are their responsibilities?

This post is in response to the controversy regarding HarperCollins putting a cap of 26 loans on ebooks that they offer to libraries through vendors like Overdrive.

In the article UNLOCKING THE FUTURE OF PUBLIC LIBRARIES: DIGITAL LICENSING THAT PRESERVES ACCESS (16 U. Balt. Intell. Prop. L.J. 29) there is discussion about libraries not being pirates and as such should not be treated as pirates.

...our public libraries are not Grokster or Napster and should not be
considered so by publishers. The public library is not in the business of
providing the pipes for unfettered access to copyrighted works.

The article goes on to say:

Like publishers, the public library is in the business of disseminating information, encouraging consumption of that information, and promoting respect for authors, artists and scientists.

I think most librarians would agree with the two statements from the article. 

Some librarians are now calling for an eBook User’s Bill of Rights. What I do not see in any of the "bill of rights" are any discussion of the responsibilities of libraries. What are libraries going to do to protect and support authors in the new digital environment?

Why did HarperCollins put a limit of 26 uses on an ebook? There are doing this because consumers are out forum shopping for libraries that have digital content that they can use. Instead of buying ebooks people are joining libraries in other states so that they can use their ebooks. Take a look at these two comments that were posted on ebook discussions by people telling how they are getting content for their Nook and Sony readers.

The Free Libary of Philadelphia ($15 a year for non-residents) just recently added all of the magic tree house books. I live in the Washington DC area and get most of my books from the DC library and the FLP (both have great selections). I've been noticing both of them adding more and more children's book lately.

I live in Florida and just sent a check for $15 for my library card for the Free Library of Philadelphia. I understand I can borrow ebooks from them. My local library doesn't offer ebooks yet. Has anyone used this library. How does it work? I understand it uses overdrive. Any suggestions? How long will I be able to have a book? Thanks all.

So in these two examples we have people in DC and in Florida using ebooks from the Free Library of Philadelphia (FLP). If you live in the city the library is free but if you live in another state you can join for $15. Numerous people have joined the FLP to get cheaper access to ebooks. Logic is very simple. If a single ebook cost $10-$15 one ebook borrowed from FPL made up for the $15 spent to join the library.

FPL has a blog post about the 26 book cap: HarperCollins makes changes to library e-book sales and lending

What the publishers see is a world where everyone joins one library and uses the ebooks from that single collection. The publisher view of the world may not be completely clear but it would be useful to stand in their shoes and look at their perspective before librarians denigrate publishers as evil for instituting the 26 loan cap. In addition to demanding "rights" libraries need to also be looking out for the rights of publishers and authors.