The Nook, The Kindle and Readers Have Rights Too

BlogHer Original Post

Last week was a big e-book discussion week. Barnes and Noble released it's new dedicated e-book reader, the Nook. There was a dust up about Kindle usage. And then there was the shocking revelation that *gasp* readers have rights too.

Let's look at the Nook first. (Yeah, it's a bad name, but then Kindle isn't so great either.) This new offering from BN offers a lot of what the Kindle does, including wireless downloads. It's good to see the Kindle have some competition on that front (rumor is that Sony is coming out with something similar soon and one assumes that when Apple unleashes their version it will have that as well). When the Nook was announced one of the big (in fact HUGE) advantages that readers saw was the "Lend Me" feature which would allow the Nook owner to "loan" the e-book to a friend for a period of fourteen days. During that time they would not be able to read the book on their own device. In a world where "loaning e-books" tends to result in "dirty rotten pirate" this was major news.

Until someone did a little bit more digging. As it turns out that you can only loan a book out once. There was a collective sigh around the blogosphere and well, some people who already ordered it before that tidbit came to light might be in for a bit of a surprise.

Geeky Mom asked if the Nook will be a Kindle killer and I honestly don't think so, especially in light of the loaning a book only once policy. And because Barnes and Noble is coming to the game late their e-books stocks aren't quite as extensive as other e-book sellers.

Now let's move on to the Kindle. There was a story in the New York Times about e-books that caused a kerfuffle (I believe that is the polite term for what happened). This is the part in particular that caused the uproar:

Exploiting a loophole in Amazon’s system, Ms. Englin has linked her Kindle to the Amazon account of some nearby friends, allowing all of them to read books like “The Lost Symbol” at the same time — while paying for them only once.

The article then goes on to report that Ms. Englin says she and her friends do not know if what they do is within Amazon's terms of service. It's how the article ends and the big takeaway from the whole article as written is that this woman is cheating the system. It set off numerous groups, but perhaps most unfortunately it set off some authors. The woman was called a thief on Twitter. Worse yet, others were encouraged to retweet the accusation.

The problem was, as so elegantly laid out by Dear Author's Jane, the Ms. Englin and her friends weren't doing anything wrong. Not by Kindle's Terms of Service, which allows six devices to be connected to a single account. And no, they do not have to live in the same household. Now you're not going to let use anyone use your Kindle account. Why? Because they also have access to your credit card (which is stored so that you can download wirelessly to the Kindle) and can make purchases on it. You have to be pretty good friends with someone to allow that. She wasn't breaking any copyright or digital rights management laws or agreements either. You see, we readers? We have some rights too.

The problem here is that the very same law that gives authors a property right to their creative work gives consumers the right of first sale and fair use privileges. Let me state that again. The VERY SAME LAW that creates intellectual property for authors gives readers rights too.

A lot of this comes down to digital rights management and pirating. Now, this is going to be the hard part as I try really hard not to rant. This is the thing, I support authors. They provide me with hours and hours of entertainment each week, let alone over the course of a year. I'm happy to pay for their books when I can afford and borrow from the library when I can't. I don't want their work to be pirated anymore than they do and I certainly won't be the one pirating it. But I hate digital rights management and the DRM files that are attached the the e-books that I legally purchase. With a passion.

I remember the first time I tried to move an e-book that I legally borrowed from the library onto my e-book reader. It ended in tears and swearing. Ditto the same time I legally bought a book from an e-book store that wasn't the same store as the brand associated with my e-book reader. The file type was compatible but well...I darn near threw both the reader and my computer at the wall. I wasn't trying to do anything with the books that I wasn't supposed to do. I was only trying to move it from my computer to my reader so that I could read it, a radical action don't you think? I still hate that process, though I'm happy to say it has gotten a bit easier...most of the time.

I honestly felt like I was being punished for been a good law-abiding citizen of the world. If ever there was a moment I was tempted to look for pirated books it was those first two attempts to move legal books to my e-book reader. If I wasn't I could have gone online, found a pirated version easily enough and it would have been far easier to move onto my device. It really makes no sense to me. Ok, fine. It does. I understand why the DRM files on these books exist, but I do not understand why they need to be so difficult to use.

Courtney Milan in her post "Readers Have Rights Too made a point that I really agree with.

But keep in mind that the value a book has is not just in the act of reading it. It’s also–hugely so–in the act of sharing it. In giving a book to a friend and waiting breathlessly to see if she loves it as much as you do. In reading a book someone else has recommended, and figuring out why it does (or doesn’t) work for you. Books are about building community, and if we undercut that community as authors, we take value away from our books.

I love sharing and recommending books to my friends. I have many books I'd love to share with my friends but the problem is that we're not exactly geographically conveniently located for that. Many of my friends live in other cities. Heck, I'm Canadian and many of my reading-inclined friends live in the US. We sometimes try to read a book together (or even within the same month as each other) but coordinating which person can buy one, which has to wait for a library copy, etc can make it pretty difficult. And don't even think about trying to all get a book form the library at the same time unless its several years old and not very popular and even better if it's a classic (heh! Moonstone!). It would be fantastic if there was a way we could share e-books. The same way it would be fantastic if I could loan them physical books. I'm not breaking any laws when I purchase a book and loan it to a friend, so the assumption of some people who think if I want to loan an e-book to a friend I'm a pirate/thief/no-good-awful-human-being really bothers me.

Authors, the people who are having this discussion? We're not talking about sending it to 500 of our social networking friends who will turn around and do the same. We're not talking about putting your e-book up for sale on e-Bay or Craigslist. We're talking about sharing your book with our mothers, sisters, close friends. We're not trying to pirate your books or steal from you. The world of e-books is a whole new world for everyone. We've got your back. Just make sure you have ours too.

Contributing Editor Sassymonkey also blogs at Sassymonkey and Sassymonkey Reads.

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