ALA’s open letter to American ebook publishers

September 24th, 2012 § Comments Off § permalink

The turmoils of the ebook market continue to send waves throughout Libraryland. Today, ALA President Maureen Sullivan released an open letter to America’s publishers, namely Simon & Schuster, Macmillan, and Penguin:

“Simon & Schuster, Macmillan, and Penguin have been denying access to their e-books for our nation’s 112,000 libraries and roughly 169 million public library users. [...] We librarians cannot stand by and do nothing while some publishers deepen the digital divide. We cannot wait passively while some publishers deny access to our cultural record. We must speak out on behalf of today’s — and tomorrow’s — readers.The library community demands meaningful change and creative solutions that serve libraries and our readers who rightfully expect the same access to e-books as they have to printed books.”

Academic libraries for the most part remain unscathed by the ebook storm, but a time is coming when the winds will change. The 2012 ECAR report shows that undergraduates increasingly rely on portable devices for their education experience. Also from Educause, the 2012 Horizon report lists mobile apps and tablet computing as the two most urgent emerging technologies and includes numerous mentions of digital textbooks and electronic access to course readings.

Personally, I can say that more and more students expect us to have electronic editions of course-related material, especially ebooks. I have at least one student come by the reference desk every day asking for them. Given that academic libraries are one obvious service point for these materials, publishers would do well to work with us to provide access in a way that makes all parties happy.

The ebook user’s bill of rights

March 1st, 2011 § Comments Off § permalink

Librarians are up in arms about eBooks. HarperCollins recently announced that eBooks offered through their distributor, OverDrive, would be nuked after 26 uses. Librarians would then have to repurchase the book. Now, I recognize the need to provide materials to our patrons and the needs of authors, but I also know that librarians are gluttons for abuse (40+ years of “serials crisis” anyone?) and it wouldn’t hurt if they stood up for themselves from time to time.

That said, and without much equivocation, I advocate for Cory Doctorow’s stance:

You have exactly one weapon in your arsenal to keep yourself from being caught in this leg-hold trap: your collections budget. Stop buying from publishers who stick time-bombs in their ebooks. Yes, you can go to the Copyright Office every three years and ask for a temporary exemption to the DMCA to let your jailbreak your collections, but that isn’t Plan B, it’s Plan Z. Plan A is to stop putting dangerous, anti-patron technology into your collections in the first place.

I stand in solidarity with my librarian brothers and sisters by passing along this, an Ebook User’s Bill of Rights (via the 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.

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