The eBook User’s Bill of Rights


I am reposting this document, drawn up by Sarah Hougton-Jan and Andy Woodworth because I support this effort and I hope to see it expanded.

What do *you* think? Are there parts you would change? Is there something forgotten? I’ve seen at least two other related efforts– one claims to be an “eBook Buyer’s Bill of Rights” which makes some very good points as well, and an earlier effort by other librarians, “The Readers’ Bill of Rights for Digital Books”.

I am excited to see the energy around this issue, and I just hope it will be sustained. In the meantime, one way to keep track of the action is a website put up by Brett Bonfield and Gabriel Farrell, which will document the status of whether librarians should be boycotting Harper Collins or not:

Some aren’t sure that a boycott is the right response at this point– but I don’t think anyone engaged in any negotiation or argument knows exactly what the right tactic is at any given point. It’s important that we begin to do something– something serious enough to convey to the other players that we’re not going to be left out of the conversation without a fight.

To those who afraid we’re short-changing our patrons if we boycott Harper Collins, I say that’s exactly how we got into this powerless position in the first place. I’m sorry, but trading short-term mediocrity for longer term solutions does not serve our patrons. It just makes us look like fumbling idiots who can’t deliver a quality product to their fancy new eReader they got for Christmas.

The eBook User’s Bill of Rights

The eBook User’s Bill of Rights is a statement of the basic freedoms that should be granted to all eBook users.

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.

To the extent possible under law, the person who associated CC0 with this work has waived all copyright and related or neighboring rights to this work

Silence = Death

One night, you’re walking home alone and you are jumped in an alley and cornered. You can smell the alcohol on the attacker’s breath and see the desperation in his eyes, this isn’t someone you can reason with. Your first instinct should be to avoid conflict, losing a wallet and a couple of credit cards isn’t worth losing your life. Most of us aren’t that stupid. Or stubborn.

But your attacker isn’t rational. He knocks the wallet out of your hand, now is brandishing a knife. He doesn’t just want your wallet, he wants more. As you try to explain that you don’t have anything else, the conversation becomes even uglier– his words less coherent, his gestures more menacing, you’re shoved a couple of times and then finally– the knife comes at you.

You duck. At least I hope like hell you do. And I hope the next thing you do is punch the guy as hard as you fucking can. Ok, maybe you’re not like this usually, but I think there comes a time and a place when you’ve got to straight up defend your own life. Get away from that knife.

I can’t help but feel that if it isn’t time for libraries to duck the knife and start swinging that we are but seconds away.

By now, most people reading this will be aware of the situation that drives me to this conclusion. HarperCollins (note: I’m not providing a link here) has decided to change the terms of their library ebook licensing in such a way that hurts consumer choice, limits access for those without sufficient means, and generally just slaps the face of the people who love to read and want to be their customers. This has me upset enough but there has been tremendous groundswell on the net and people much smarter and more articulate than me have written about it. See: Sarah’s post for one of my favorites. Bobbi does a great job of laying out the full situation and providing links to many other posts as well.

Some folks are echoing Cory Doctorow‘s sentiment, “libraries should just stop buying DRM media for their collections. Period. It’s unsafe at any speed.” And he may be right, but right now we just don’t have the power to make a stand that makes a difference. If we tried to resist individually, we’d be picked off, one at a time. Our patrons would flock to neighboring communities (or away from us completely), and then one by one we’d lose funding. The community isn’t going to understand it’s not librarians who make these decisions. Which leads me to what I see is a much bigger issue.

Overshadowed in all this is another announcement that Overdrive made that disturbs me much more. They say, “Another area of publisher concern that OverDrive is responding to is the size and makeup of large consortia and shared collections.”

Ok, that’s it. Game over. The only possible way that our institutions of public good– our libraries– can afford to bridge the content divide between those who have and those who have not, is by banding together and buying as a group. If the publishers are attacking this model, then they are attacking libraries themselves.

So, I say, let’s duck the knife. I know it’s going to be tough but let’s have some strength of character and start to get serious about preserving ourselves. I say rather than even let this begin, that we flat out refuse to buy electronic content for distribution except as consortia. Don’t let these folks divide and conquer– let’s hold on to our areas of strength and push back.

And let’s drop the barriers to collaboration. Let’s bring our consortia together and insist that we negotiate only as an industry. Perhaps this is the role Library Renewal can play? Will they? If not, who? Who will answer the call? It’s going to take more than just libraries and librarians, but if we don’t have a cohesive banner to rally around– how will they know how to help?