Whose Book Is It Anyway?

I recently read a relevant commentary by, Michael Seringhaus, a third year Yale law student, that raises a lot of seemingly perpetual questions surrounding copyright, licensing, and law.  (And, more importantly, it raises personal questions like: Why didn’t I choose to become an attorney?)

According to Seringhaus, in July of this year, Amazon withdrew titles of George Orwell’s “1984” and “Animal Farm” from thousands of Kindle readers.  Amazon apparently lacked proper copyright authorization to sell the book in electronic format.  The striking bit of news was that according to their terms and conditions; you never actually own a Kindle book.  Instead you own a licensed copy to read it in digital form.  I was able to find the actual License Agreement & Terms of Use on the Kindle site, under “Kindle Support” (the link is http://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html?nodeId=200399690&#content).

Here were my thoughts:

1.  If you never own a Kindle book, then Amazon has the rights to take it from you.

2.  If you never own a Kindle book, then you can never resell it.

3.  If you never own a Kindle book, and Amazon has the right to take it from you without notice, and you can never resell it; how much money is a fair price for it?

After all, a traditional print copy could never legally be taken from your personal library; not even if there were some problem with the stores rights to sell it.  Seringhaus argues several reasons for why this particular agreement and e-book licensing in general will be successfully challenged in court or deemed unenforceable.  I look forward to closely following the debate.

“Kindle, How to Buy a Book, But Not Own It”



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