eBook User’s Bill of Rights – Seriously?


This morning while listening to Bob Seger sing his classic “Old Time Rock and Roll” on YouTube (my resource of choice for drowning out ambient office noise), it struck me that our 21st Century society has become WAY TOO accustomed to copyright infringement, IMHO. My guess is that a majority of people infringe on copyright in one way or another, many without even realizing it. As a result, the majority of people today have begun to feel entitled to access to anything and everything. (I’m sure I could find some examples of advocates for that view, but that’s getting off track.)

Yesterday, my Post was about the “event” (as I called it) that will fuel controversy over this copyright issue for years to come. For those of you like me who may need a refresher on “first sale” doctrine, ALA’s brand new (March 1, 2011) Advocacy Brochure Libraries: The Place of Opportunity addresses that.

This provision allows one to resell, lend, or otherwise dispose of a book or other work lawfully acquired (or purchased) without obtaining permission from the copyright holder. Therefore, copyright law allows copyright holders to control the primary market – the first sale of their work. After purchasing a copy of a work, for example, the buyer can resell or give the copy away – the rights holder can no longer place restrictions on the copy.

Librarian In Black Sarah Houghton-Jan was the first to weigh in on the “event” regarding HarperCollins setting a loan limit on its eBooks. Monday she Posted The eBook User’s Bill of Rights that proposed the following.

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.

There isn’t much to disagree with in this bill of rights, except the very first premise. The idea that rights to access outweigh proprietary rights demonstrates my initial assertion – the majority of people have begun to feel entitled to access to anything and everything. Labeling it “The eBook User’s Bill of Rights “ further demonstrates that entitlement. Trying to imitate the Library Bill of Rights to substantiate a “user’s bill of rights” is distorted logic.

Based on the available resources to date, my personal conclusion is that;
• Publishers and authors are totally profit oriented.
• Librarians feel entitled to access to everything, on behalf of readers who also feel entitled to access to everything.
So, continuing the “One copy – One reader” standard for eBooks won’t financially damage any publisher, and it will provide the library with continued access to literary resources for their customers.

BUT (big but), the real problem still remains regarding the electronic “copy”, which is what publishers are actually trying to control. Placing loan limitations on eBooks is silliness.

I agree that digitally formatted material is an enigma in that it can be SO EASILY reproduced and transferred, that it is always tempting to do it. Librarians are STILL in a quandary over “Can we make a copy in-house of a worn out CD/DVD or book on tape?” Imagine the problems regarding replacing damaged eBook files if the “first sale” doctrine is invoked. If the library’s bound paper book becomes worn out and unusable through normal use, do they make a photocopy, or do they buy a new one? It is the same issue with digital material. The publisher’s cost of production of digital material vs. print material is irrelevant, as is the pristine condition of every digital “copy”.

When someone figures out how to satisfy all parties regarding protection against unauthorized and illegal reproduction, transfer, and replacement of digital materials, then we’ll see a resolution to this apparent impasse between publishers and libraries. Until then we’ll endure off-topic arguments that support each side’s agenda.

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