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”



Apple, the Full Moon, and A Bet.

I am not a believer in Astronomy. It would be more accurate to say Astronomy; with it’s far fetched reaches, is grossly annoying. So it was on a particular full moon, January 30th to be exact, I loathe to admit, I was more annoyed than usual. Most of the day was spent, grumbling about one minute offense or another. The socks on the floor, countertops with gooey spots, odd smells not easily identifiable. (Did I mention I’m six months pregnant?)

Needless to say, it was a perfect storm setting for a huge argument, and I was in rare form. The subject; an article in the New York Times, by Brad Stone and Motoko Rich, “Amazon Removes Macmillan Books.” I am an avid bookworm, reading several books a week, often more than three at any given time, and the only thing I love nearly as much as reading, is Apple. Yes, I mean Apple, as in iPod, iPhone, iMac, and the ultimate iPad. Eagerly anticipating the inevitable purchase of my new iPad, and ecstatic about the news that my Kindle purchases would be readable on the new device, I’d given little thought to e-book prices.

Enter the husband.

He was carrying two pieces of glad news. The first was an explanation of the full moon and the effects on mood, and the second – Did I hear that Macmillan publishing was being pulled from Amazon Kindle sales? Something about the pricing structure, and how this would turn out to be just like the entertainment industry griping with Apple over it’s pricing of movies on iTunes. I admit I was a tad defensive. Steve Jobs, like Albert Einstein, is a genius. Sure, there are fights with Netflix and Sony over pricing and release dates of new movies, but this is literature. What publisher in their right mind doesn’t understand the portion of book sales now attributable to e-book sales? I argued for a few minutes more, and then read the article.

Amazon wants to keep the average book price at $9.99
Macmillan wants to change the average book price to $15.00

Good for Amazon! Pooh on Macmillan.

I read on.

Apple e-book prices will likely be higher than $9.99.
Uh oh.

Then the debate turned heated. Macmillan and other publishing houses price their books based on overhead factors that are not applicable to electronic content. Publishers will see their books drop off bestseller lists if e-book sales are eliminated. Didn’t I just read a Yale law paper explaining that e-book buyers don’t really own the book, but the license to read it. Don’t they understand that in today’s technological age, I pay .99 for a song?! Do they really think consumers will quietly pay more?

I’m sure I was yelling by this time. My husband was stoic and characteristically calm. Did I mention I was annoyed? Looking for some way to validate my well thought out legitimate points, I blurt out, “Ok, I am willing to bet you $400 that one year from today, the average price for an e-book will be no more than $9.99.” He quietly accepted the wager.

A single day later, New York Times writers, Brad Stone and Motoko Rich print another article: “Publisher Wins Fight With Amazon Over E-books”.

Now, I’m beyond annoyed, I’m on a mission.