“The eBook User’s Bill Of Rights” #ebookrights

I’m a digital kinda guy.

I like digital media. It’s portable. It’s searchable. It’s compact. It’s mobile. It can be easily referenced, quoted, remixed, annotated. It can be scanned through, sped up or slowed down.

Or at least, it should be.

Instead of that, we have illogical restrictions and corporate ass-covering. We have standards — too many of them, and they are too weak to stand up to corporate customizations which make them incompatible with the core standard.

We have vertical architectures where we should have horizontal ones. We have control exerted where it shouldn’t be. We have a fearful middleman business who realizes that they aren’t really necessary, that bits > atoms for most people.

We do lose some things, of course. We lose the physical connection to the material, the ephemeral and secondary qualities which help our minds to remember. Nothing smells like old vinyl or an aging hardcover. The texture of an MP3 is non-existent, the binding and cloth of every eBook on the same reader exactly the same. There’s nothing but an artificial, exactly-the-same-every-time sound to the pageflip on an eReader. There’s no crackle and texture to the virtual buttons on your music player.

But what we shouldn’t forget, what will kill us to forget, is that we have rights. We don’t state ’em often, and most of them we take for granted — right up until they are taken away.

We are being swindled into believing that we aren’t buying things any more — justlicensing the use of things for your temporary, restricted, personal, non-transferrable use.

I’ve been ranting about this a bit on Twitter lately, and this post won’t be much more elaborate than those tweets, at least not at the moment. I’ve declared the current generation of eReaders to be an abysmal failure, for reasons as varied as incompatible formats, vertical book stores, character-less devices, lack of low-end devices, and more.

I also argued that libraries are about making information available for those who can’t afford it — at least, on the high-level of principle, if not always in the low-level of practice — and that eReaders currently offer no viable model for them.

What all this post has been so far is to say: the topic is on my mind.

And then I heard about the following (on episode 188 of Tech News Today), and realized: I’m not the only one.

The Librarian in Black blog seems to have been thinking about this more and for longer than I have (not surprising, really), and has a number of great points that I’ll be exploring as time permits.

For now, however, I’m going to join the voices re-posting the line-drawing manifesto. I don’t entirely agree with all of the points (extending the right of first sale gets rather confusing in the easily-replicable world of bits, and represents a conundrum that has yet to find a good answer, following the very bad answer of DRM), but I think it’s a good start, and the solid beginning to a vocal stand.

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.