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:

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Ross continued:

Ross checked with Amazon:

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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:

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and this:

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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.

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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 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

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