E-books, copyright, licensing and ownership

There are a number of issues that surround E-books. The focus today is on the device and the options they provide rather than digital rights. These concern ownership, copyright and licensing of E-books. The rights that are imbued to the physical form do not transfer to the E-book. You do not have right of first ownership with an E-book and as Amazon demonstrated with the removal of George Orwell’s “1984” from Kindles, you do not completely have control of the item that you have purchased. This means that you are purchasing without gaining ownership. What you are gaining is licensing attached to your purchase.

This is important concept to understand for libraries as they start creating E-book collections. Overdrive is only really licensing access to the E-books even though the library is required to purchase the item at retail cost and then pay an additional hosting fee to access the collection.

While the blame for this design is easily laid at the feet of Overdrive, it is really the publishers that are forcing this model. Publishers are forcing libraries to purchase an E-book for each item they circulate. In the digital world, this is asinine. While in the physical world there is a cost to reproduce a book and distribute, in the digital world the cost is close to zero.

So while we think of all the wonderful possibilities that E-books might offer, there are some hazards. It is possible today to create a E-book collection but what happens if Overdrive goes bankrupt, will the that collection be lost? My feeling is that this answer is yes, it will be lost. If the library can no longer afford to pay the access fee, then will that collection will be lost? What happens to the collection? If you want to transfer that collection to another vendor that offers lower hosting costs can you do that today? The answer to that question is no.

Finally, something to think about; who is protecting the digital rights of citizens and libraries in this country?

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