The Future of the Publishing Industry (or why terms of service are so important): HarperCollins Part Two

LOLibrarian from Smart Bitches, Trashy Books

LOLibrarian from Smart Bitches, Trashy Books

So now that you’ve read in the first post about the possibilities of using new technologies to transform the publishing industry in a potentially positive way, now read the tale of how Harper Collins is using another technology — e-books and their terms of service — to potentially shut down e-books in libraries.

Overdrive, the platform that most U.S. public libraries use to circulate e-books, recently released a press release stating that

OverDrive [has] a licensing change from a publisher that, while still operating under the one-copy/one-user model, will include a checkout limit for each eBook licensed. Under this publisher’s requirement, for every new eBook licensed, the library (and the OverDrive platform) will make the eBook available to one customer at a time until the total number of permitted checkouts is reached. This eBook lending condition will be required of all eBook vendors or distributors offering this publisher’s titles for library lending (not just OverDrive).

So to cut to the chase, the publisher is Harper Collins, as discovered by Josh Hadro at Library Journal, with a lifetime lending limit of 26 checkouts. What this would mean is that libraries would need to keep track of the number of checkouts — and once reaching this magical number — kaboom, the “book” isn’t usable. Not only does this prove that ebooks aren’t books in the way that print books are, placed within the first sale doctrine, but that because they are licensed (and the license terms can be changed at any time prospectively), this type of ownership is meaningless.

Librarians and their supporters are understandably upset, with a variety of posts on BoingBoing, Librarian By Day, Dear Author, Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, Literary Sluts, TechDirt, and many others.

Not only will there be many, many logistical issues for libraries, but Dear Author breaks down some of the overall problems with this approach:

Here’s just a few reasons why this move by HarperCollins is so unbelievably bad.

1) Restricting library usage of digital books will not slow down ebook adoption because ebook adoption is a by product of digital media adoption. As TV and movies and music goes, so will books. Or books will just be left behind.

2) Reducing visibility in the libraries will reduce discoverability by readers. Reduced discoverability is the last thing that publishers can afford to have happen to its books.

3) Reducing legitimate access to books will make it easier for readers to justify piracy. Don’t give them that opportunity.

So where to go from here? There is the Readers’ Bill of Rights for Digital Books , but it has yet to hit traction in the library/publishing world. Librarian in Black has a similar call to action, called the eBook User’s Bill of Rights:

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.

Hopefully, the protests will change the decision by HarperCollins.

If you want to follow the discussion on Twitter, the hashtag is #hcod.


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