The eBook Reader’s Bill of Rights

A couple of sources linked to Sarah Houghton-Jan’s bill of rights, no doubt inspired by Harper Collins changing its terms of service for the ebooks it has licensed to libraries to limit the total number of allowed loans per title.

In sharing this bill of rights in its entirety (it is released under a CC0 license), Audrey Watters at ReadWriteWeb is far more conservative than we should be, still wondering if DRM is a necessary evil. It is the only mechanism that publishers and other content distributors have earnestly tried, I don’t think that qualifies it as the sum total of the question we should be considering in response to Houghton-Jan’s thoughts. As Watters and other contributors to RWW have explored recently, making libraries viable in the post-network, post-digital era without imploding the sources of sustained creation on which they rely is a complex challenge. The responses should be equally as sophisticated not the sheer monotonous monopole that is DRM.

Cory over at BoingBoing is understandably more supportive. It is Doctorow’s Law, after all, that cautions author’s against acceding to DRM as being against their best interests. He also is responsible for some of the kinds of experimentation that really is required to meet the tough challenges publishing and libraries face. Doctorow manages to embrace the network and digital formats by giving his work away yet at the same time supporting both his publisher and libraries. The latter is done through the simple but effective program where he connects readers who are entirely satisfied with his free editions yet want to support his work with libraries and schools that can benefit from the donation of print copies.

(I also agree with Cory that “reader” is a more poetic and apt label than the rather pedestrian word, “user”.)

I do not think it is any coincidence that the bill of rights follows very closely in the spirit of the four freedoms of Free Software. Indulging the CC0 license of the original, I’ve re-posted the entirety after the link and attribution, below.

The eBook User’s Bill of Rights, Librarian in Black

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.

To the extent possible under law, the person who associated CC0 with this work has waived all copyright and related or neighboring rights to this work.

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