Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

Readers Have Copyright Rights Too

Yesterday, there was an article in the New York Times about ebooks and the increase of ebook reading and possible dangers. The plus takeaway was that Kindle readers purchase more books than most heavy book purchasers.

Amazon for example, says that people with Kindles now buy 3.1 times as many books as they did before owning the device. That factor is up from 2.7 in December 2008. So a reader who had previously bought eight books from Amazon would now purchase, on average, 24.8 books, a rise from 21.6 books.

We romance readers know that from our own experience. Many of the early adopters of ebooks have been romance readers who buy more books than any subset of readers out there.

The negative takeaway from the Times article was that there was a reader who shared a Kindle account with someone else. She was quoted as thinking she was probably taking advantage of a loophole.

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.

"I read much more, I tend to read faster for some reason, and I read a greater variety of things," said Ms. Englin, adding that this is nearly the same as lending a physical book to friends. "We haven’t really looked closely at Amazon’s terms of service. But I do suspect we are breaking the rules."

This caused some authors to start calling her a thief and trying to shame her. I pointed out that the Kindle Terms of Service allow for up to six devices to be registered to a single account.   A number of authors did not believe Eglin was acting lawfully or ethically:


Ross continued:

Ross checked with Amazon:


When you hook up a device to a Kindle account, whether it is an iPhone/iTouch or Kindle, every user of the registered device has the ability to charge books to that account so only those you really, really trust would register a device on the same account.

Then the discussion segued into more general copyright issues.   Elizabeth Burton, a publisher, had this to say:


and this:


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.

Here’s how it works.

  • COPYRIGHT LAW   gives a bundle of rights to AUTHORS.
  • AUTHORS sell that bundle of rights, including the right of distribution and copying to a PUBLISHER in exchange for money.
  • PUBLISHER exercises its purchased rights by making many copies and selling those copies in a few ways including, but not limited to, the following two:

1. A SALE which results in a consumer purchasing the book and gaining the RIGHT OF FIRST SALE and FAIR USE RIGHTS granted by same COPYRIGHT LAW.

2. A LEASE which is bound by the terms of an agreement.

In the Kindle instance, the purchase is of a lease of a book for as long as Amazon deems it appropriate for you to have access to a copy.   The contractual terms between a Kindle owner and Amazon allows for up to six devices registered to an account to simultaneously share that book.   This is not infringement as so many authors (looking at you, Toni Blake, and others) have suggested.   What Amazon is allowed to share with a reader is dependent on the rights that are granted to Amazon by publishers.   Hence the turning off of Text to Speech and conversely, the allowance of 6 simultaneous downloads.

To unapologetically call a reader a THIEF when she is exercising a right granted by Amazon and therefore by the publisher is terrible. It’s an affront to all readers.


No laws are being skirted.   No laws are changed.   Except that readers are being given the shaft.   Because some readers prefer to read digital books, our rights have been erased.   We cannot resell a digital book because no one trusts that we have deleted the originals.   We cannot be allowed to share a book because the fear is that pressing the email button with an attachment being feared we are using it as a copy button.   WE ARE PRESUMED TO BE DIRTY, THIEVING CRIMINALS.   I AM VERY TIRED OF IT.

The default position is that we ebook readers are always engaged in some form of wrongdoing.   We are charged more.   We don’t get the book at the same time.   We are constrained in how we use our books, on what devices we read them on, with whom we can share them.   We are not considered legitimate customers if we do not leave our house and buy a paper copy.

Sharing is a fundamental part of reading.   Sharing is a reader’s way of saying “try this, I think you’ll like it. There is no risk here.” It’s a way of building a relationship with another reader so that the next time you are reading a book, you can say, “get this” and that person will go and buy it, solely on your recommendation.   From one reader to another, there is no greater expression of trust than to buy on another reader’s recommendation.

Sharing is part of creating the reading community. Sharing seeds reading.   It creates and generates more interest in reading. Why is this important? Because the biggest threat to authors’ livelihood is not piracy.   It is not casual sharing.   It is a declining readership.   It is rising rates of illiteracy.   It is alternative forms of entertainment.

I am not arguing that piracy is right. It is not.   But sharing between people on one Kindle account is not piracy and to equate piracy with sharing is incredibly insulting and frustrating.   As an ebook reader, I have given up so many rights.

Thank god for people like Courtney Milan and Tessa Dare who blogged about readers’ rights too.   Discovering what seemed like so many authors ill regard toward sharing, that so many would leap to the conclusion that sharing amongst even six readers is piracy, is so offputting that I am reluctant to foster anyone else’s joy in reading.    If authors want us to respect them and their rights, they need to start respecting us and our rights.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


  1. Reader
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 13:15:59

    Comment #393 is not posted by me, the original commentator of #247; the other person wrote recently as “A Reader” (#393) while I simply signed on as “Reader” (#247) when I first stumbled into the discussion. I wanted to clarify this for anyone reading the Comments’ Section.

  2. MaryK
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 14:27:47

    @A Reader:

    Legitimate reviews for books by the e-publishers are few and far between so I actually never did find those reviews I was looking for. And as long as readers are being charged premium prices for shoddy books by amateur authors I imagine you'll find more and more people willing to pirate books just like me. Please understand, I'm not just talking about books I just don't “like” I actually feel like I've been defrauded the writing and editing is so bad, especially when the excerpted portion reads nothing like the actual book.

    I'm spending more money now on books than ever? … If not for finding those pirated sites I can assure you small e-book authors wouldn't continue to receive almost half of my book buying budget.

    So you’re saying, you pirate ebooks to try them out because you can’t find useful reviews – the pirated copy becomes the “try it” copy?

    If you enjoy an ebook you’ve pirated, do you then buy books by that author?

  3. A Reader
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 16:18:35


    So you're saying, you pirate ebooks to try them out because you can't find useful reviews – the pirated copy becomes the “try it” copy?

    If you enjoy an ebook you've pirated, do you then buy books by that author?

    Sort of but not really. I discovered pirated books hoping to find some honest reviews of these books after I’d been burned so many times but the reason I pirate books is because it’s easy and I’m not afraid of being “caught”. I’m not claiming what I do is right because I deserve to know what I’m buying and can’t find a good review–I steal books I have no business reading if I’m not willing to risk my money on them whether they’ve been reviewed by a reputable reviewer or not.

    But I do use pirated books as a “try before you buy” way to discover new authors and absolutely do buy books by authors I’ve discovered that way (I’ve actually bought the same book I’ve already pirated to get it in my prefered format by a new favorite author) but that isn’t really why my ebook spending has increased. Frankly, reading a few books by an author for “free” just lets me know if they’re capable of writing a coherant story–not that they will. That’s why reviews and free short stories don’t impact spending like pirating does.

    I spend more money now because I’m not afraid of wasting my hard earned money on books by some talentless hack looking to cash in on a menage craze or what have you. I still “waste” my money on crappy books that shouldn’t have been published but because I can read as much as I want for “free” I’m more willing to spend my money in the first place. Who cares if I was burned by the last three books I’ve bought? I’ve read some good ones for free that more than make up for it.

  4. Ginny
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 16:40:05

    This is going to sound strange, but at least you’re honest about your pirating. Let me ask you, though, does that mean every book you find that’s been pirated is crap? Is that the only way a story get’s pirated, is, if somebody like you deems it unworthy of the purchase price but worthy to be read for free? I’m NOT trying to start another fight here, I’d honestly like to know why those who pirate stories do it.

    I mean I know that I normally share my books with friends and family because I think it’s great and somebody else needs to know about it, does the opposite work for pirated books?

  5. A Reader
    Oct 27, 2009 @ 17:06:09


    Let me ask you, though, does that mean every book you find that's been pirated is crap? Is that the only way a story get's pirated, is, if somebody like you deems it unworthy of the purchase price but worthy to be read for free?

    Absolutely not. Pirating communities function the same way any romance book community does. Good books by talented authors get shared more often (and for the same reasons you share books) and are of course in higher demand than crap books. It’s been my experience that people who share books with a million of their closest friends do it because they like sharing, not because they want to stick it to the man or punish authors for writing bad books.

  6. Stumbling Over Chaos :: Halloween Linkity Horror Show! Eeeeeek!!
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 06:47:19

    […] Author brings up an important point that has been very neglected in the world of ebooks: readers have rights under copyright law, […]

  7. Anon76
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 09:23:15

    @A Reader:

    Ah, good, I was a bit worried that perhaps you used the posting of books you disliked as a revenge. I soooo didn’t want that to be the case, and I’m soooo glad it’s not.

    Thank you so much for being open, and for others not spazzing out with flame posts. This is an important issue and needs to be discussed rationally. If we can’t find the underlying “whys” nothing can be addressed nor resolved.

    Now I will slip on my author hat. While I would adore a reader being so enthusiastic over my book they want to share with friends, the sheer volume worries me. Millions, hundreds of thousands, thousands, and even hundreds seems too much. The exponential distribution possiblilities is a problem.

    I am working very hard on my end to grasp the fact that many of these individuals would not have bought my books anyhoo and this could be good promotion. At the same time, others must understand that putting an entire catalogue of my work up for free thereafter is very damaging. Especially for authors who do generate good work, but don’t have the sales numbers to back that up when they next query a publisher. Truth is, we are judged on those numbers. It’s a reality, just like pirating is a reality, though I wish I could say different on both counts.

    And another truth: Be it print or epub, authors only receive a certain number of free copies of their own work (as listed in their contracts) to pass on to others. When that limit is reached, we must then purchase more copies (at a discount, of course) to use for all our promos. If caught copying our own works, we could breach our contracts and be tossed on our ears or sued for damages. So I do hope some people will understand that while we would love to give away more books to entice readership, it’s simply not in our power, nor our budgets.

    And as a general “you” (thank you for that A Reader, it kept things clear, and that’s not a snark) I have to say this or bust. (Okay, maybe the “you” in this instance is more defined based on CERTAIN, not ALL comments.)

    “You no more OWE me a living than I OWE you a free book, or a book in exactly the format you want.”

    Sorry, but I’ve been sitting on that for days. It felt good to say it.

    Now I hope we continue on with reasonable discussions of the “whys”.

  8. Robin
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 23:49:37

    @Druther not say: I’m sorry I took so long to respond, but frankly I needed a break from the intensity of this thread. ;)

    Maili’s already responded, but one thing I was going to say is that IMO piracy is an extremely complicated phenomenon, and I think we need to focus on differentiating how much of it occurs because *something is not available* and how much of it occurs simply because people want free stuff. And then, beyond that, what are its real effects. It just frustrates the heck out of me when authors insist that every download of a pirated book is a lost sale. I just don’t see the justification for such an assertion or belief. Plus, I don’t think piracy is ever going to be eliminated.

    I know this is beyond your comment to me, but it got me thinking back to a year or two ago when some authors were complaining that some readers (I was included in this group) were talking too much about plagiarism. I felt like many of our posts were being met with a collective shrug. And it was mind-boggling to me, because that’s something that a) directly and negatively affects authors and readers and books and book prices, and b) is directly connected to the author community ethic and over which authors have some direct and actual control. So plagiarism is a big yawn but piracy — over which neither authors or readers have control, beyond not engaging in it — is the lit firecracker. I know it’s not all the same authors and I know that not all authors feel the same way about piracy (or plagiarism), but sometimes stuff like this frustrates me and makes me wonder how much evidence, empirical data, and research about piracy has been circulated among authors.

    @Anne Douglas: I definitely think that there’s an attitude in NY toward digital publishing that has kept it from evolving more quickly. Wasn’t it Macmillan that was just revealed to be paying its authors very low digital royalties?

    But I don’t think digitally pubbed authors are universal in their feelings about piracy, either, as I’ve seen arguments from some digitally pubbed authors that mirror the arguments of some of the NY pubbed authors. But I agree that the discussion has created a widespread sense of demoralization.

    Here’s what I wish most of all: I wish that authors would get really good education about their digital rights and how to best use them. I wish they’d get really good education about what copyright is and isn’t, what rights they do and don’t have, and how best to use those rights. I wish that there was a stronger advocacy structure for authors to feel more empowered in relation to publishers. I wish everyone really got paid what they’re worth. I doubt I have control over any of those things, but I think authors have control over at least some of them, and I don’t know how much of that is a digi v. NY thing.

  9. Blue Tyson
    Oct 28, 2009 @ 23:53:34

    You can pretty safely assume Macmillan is backwards in everything not named, I think.

  10. Rowena Cherry
    Oct 29, 2009 @ 07:58:11

    Courtney Milan,

    I had the pleasure of visiting your website, and would like to compliment you on your publisher’s attractive artwork.

    Concerning Fair Use…. Here’s the wording from one of the impressive links you supplied.

    Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 106 and 106A, the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include-‘
    (1) the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
    (2) the nature of the copyrighted work;
    (3) the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
    (4) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

    “Fair Use allows copying for purposes such as: criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, research.”

    Fair Use refers to short excerpts, not the entire work (see point 3).

    If the intention were to allow a book lover to copy a work to circumvent paying for it, I think that would have been stated.

    Would you call it “Fair Use” if the Janes, in the course of reviewing one of your books included the entire text of your full length book as part of their review?

    Of course not, see point 4.
    It is not “Fair Use” if it negatively effects the potential market for the book.

  11. Rowena Cherry
    Oct 29, 2009 @ 09:20:59

    In some respects E-Book sharing is like oral sex.

    Oral sex is illegal in some parts of the world, but as long as we don’t announce in public that we are doing it, everyone can go happily about their business. Of course, to the best of my knowledge, no one holds the copyright on oral sex.

    Imagine if someone did (own the copyright on oral sex). They probably would not be smart to announce in public that they didn’t mind if a few close friends indulged in it, because that could legally undermine her copyright.

    I hope this isn’t an offensive analogy. It’s not intended to be offensive. Whimsical, yes.

    Our imaginary inventor of oral sex, with a precious copyright that has not expired or moved into the public domain, doesn’t mind what she doesn’t know about, but she has been warned not to say so (perhaps by her lawyer, or her publisher).

    What is she to do when some well-respected and eminent people begin to announce that everyone has the legal right to share oral sex? Privately, she might agree that they have a moral right.

    However, there’s also a “defend it or lose it” potential, just as if we allow the public to take a short cut across our front lawns for six years without protesting, those paths across our front lawns become common land.

    If she points out her understanding of her copyright, she runs the risk of being accused of bashing innocent, fun-loving people who enjoy sharing oral sex, also of spoiling sport, and of insulting the community.

    Maybe some of the authors we think are overly hawkish and unreasonable are simply in an impossible situation.

  12. Pirate-reader
    Oct 29, 2009 @ 10:45:42

    You are looking for the “why’s” of pirating. I’ll throw in my “why’s”.

    Up until about 7 years ago, I wasn’t a reader. I might buy a book a year if that. I’d also never read a romance novel. I had been a big reader many years before, but fell out of the practice. Finding I had more time on my hands, I wanted to start reading again because I missed it.

    I went out and bought a few books thinking they sounded interesting after reading the blurbs, never finished any of them because I didn’t like them. I wasted about $50 on that experiment. But I still wanted to find something to read.

    Along came a friend that gave me a bootleg copy of a Nora Roberts book telling me she thought I’d like it. I read it and LOVED it. My first romance. I promptly went out and bought it new in paperback. It was part of a series so I also bought the other 3 that went with it.

    My friend then gave me a bootleg copy of a Linda Howard book and told me how to find pirated copies of books. I loved the Linda Howard. It was also part of a series so I went out and bought them all in paperback.

    The next author I tried was Suzanne Brockmann. I downloaded a copy of one of her SEAL books. Loved it. I went out and bought all I could find in the series. Had to buy several used though as they were out of print.

    I have since bought every Nora Roberts, Linda Howard and Suzanne Brockmann book out there in paperback. New when I could, used if they were out of print.

    Through pirating, I’ve tried out many new authors. Many of them have been stinkers that I didn’t finish so as far as I’m concerned, I save myself some money. But I’ve also found many authors I liked. If I like the books, I go out and buy them. I definitely buy new when I can.

    Today, I read anywhere from 2 to 5 books a week. I know which authors I like now so as soon as they have a new paperback out, I go buy it. I have about 20 authors that are autobuys. There are a couple authors I read that only publish in ebook, but I still go out and buy their books. It’s a personal standard. If I read it, I buy it.

    Do I still practice this? Yes, I still “try out” unknowns via bootleg copies.

    I also refuse to pay a used book seller outrageous prices for an out-of-print paperback. I’ve seen some as high as $500 or more. Not going to happen. Now once the book is re-issued, I’ll go buy it.

    What would solve this? eLibraries. If such a thing were available to me, I could do my “trying out” legally.

    Why don’t I use a regular library? Too much effort. You have to find one, get in the car and drive. Then you have to remember to return the books on time. I travel a lot and I have a busy schedule. For me, a regular library just doesn’t work.

    I found out about a thing called NetLibrary, but you have to have a library card to use it. Excited, I went and got a library card from my local library. I then found out that your library has to sign up so I still couldn’t use NetLibrary.

  13. Shannon Stacey
    Oct 29, 2009 @ 10:56:22

    I found out about a thing called NetLibrary, but you have to have a library card to use it. Excited, I went and got a library card from my local library. I then found out that your library has to sign up so I still couldn't use NetLibrary.

    I just asked my librarian recently if we would be getting library ebooks through Overdrive, as our library already offers Overdrive audiobooks. There were two strikes against it.

    1. The expense. In order to offer the Overdrive audiobooks, the libraries do an almost co-op deal where they pay a fee to the State and the State kicks in the rest or 90% of our libraries wouldn’t be able to afford the program. We’re a state of commuters (to Boston and our own few cities) and audiobooks are in high demand. Ebooks, not so much yet. But every request is noted by the library and if there’s enough of them, eventually it could happen.

    2. The committee studying the possible implementation of a library ebook program through Overdrive has decided that until they can decipher the world of DRM/formats/devices/etc, there’s no way in hell they want to try to walk patrons through it.

    Hopefully, with devices like the Kindle and the Nook on their way to being household words, libraries will become more open to the possibility.

  14. Jane
    Oct 29, 2009 @ 11:14:10

    @Rowena Cherry I am sure Ms. Milan intended for everyone to click on the link and read the law. There are many things that you have stated that are simply incorrect interpretations of the law.

    1) copying. The fair use doctrine, as articulated in the statute, is not an exhaustive list of what is permissible copying. The court defines what is fair use on a case by case basis. Creating a back up copy of a file is considered fair use. Everytime I re-download an ebook from the vendor site, I am creating another copy. This is likely fair use. The simultaneous downloads are permissible under the Amazon Terms of Service. My suggestion to authors who are so convinced that they are right and I, Courtney Milan, and others are incorrect, is to file suit against Amazon for copyright infringement.

    My point is that fair use does permit wholesale copying. The seminal case on this subject is the Sony Betamax case in which the Supreme Court determined that copying for time shifting purposes was fair use. There are other important fair use cases. I suggest, if you are really interested on this subject, to read the caselaw.

    2) Defend it or lose it. There is no requirement under copyright to defend infringement or suffer the loss. That is a trademark principle. You can never defend your copyright and you still maintain the right to it. Further, you can allow people to take a short cut across your land and that doesn’t create an easement (that’s what it is called) by mere inaction.

    3) your oral sex analogy? I don’t understand any of it.

    4) Pointing out incorrect assertions of the law is much different than “bashing innocent, fun-loving people”. Allowing incorrect assertions of the law is dangerous. I wish more authors would undertake a study of copyright law.

    Because there are people who persist in using the comment thread to spread incorrect interpretations of copyright law, I am going to have to close the thread. I don’t have time to keep coming back here and correcting people’s positions.

  15. E-Book Stuff « Twenty Palaces
    Oct 29, 2009 @ 14:26:32

    […] the reader named in the article because the article made it seem that she was bending the rules. Dear Author covers the situation pretty well, and makes some good points about e-books and […]

  16. Nook vs. Kindle: Sharing ebooks with others | Brad’s Reader
    Nov 18, 2009 @ 20:05:31

    […] think of it as a competitor with Nook until I read this Teleread post which was taken from this Dear Author post. The Kindle allows users to register up to six devices on one account. Ebooks can be shared freely, […]

  17. The Week That Was | Agência de Notícias da Livraria 30PorCento (Blog)
    Dec 01, 2009 @ 21:08:10

    […] Readers Have (Copy)Rights: I know, I know, it’s hard to believe, but the basic premise behind copyright protections included the idea that the public had rights and, in exchange for protecting the copyright of an artist, would be granted a sort of quid pro quo. In the early days, this came in the form of things like, oh, limited copyright terms, which encouraged further artistic expression. I call the change in attitude about copyright “The Mickey Mouse Syndrome” as laws have certainly changed due to the influence of the Walt Disney Company. […]

%d bloggers like this: