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A proto bill of ebook management rights

March 16th, 2010 Posted in Digital Books, Libraries | digg it blank

The migratory rush to digital book models offers new affordances, but it also brings risk of great loss of the enjoyments that readers obtain from print books. The opportunism of publishers, merchants, and distributors now threatens to erode some of the best aspects of historical reading. Against these losses, greater convenience is not an acceptable compensation. Restrictive rights management, loss of first sale, and the sundering of privacy, among them, greatly reduce the margin of utility for digital books and place significant downward pressure on perceptions of value.

As we build new digital book infrastructures, it makes sense to imagine what we can recapitulate by building in freedoms and privacy, and how we might ultimately engineer even better environments than we have had in the past. Below is a list of desirable features, grossly incomplete due to my own inability to imagine alternatives to the world we are leaving behind. Please leave better in comments.

  1. Reader privacy is a user controlled option, not a whimsical gift from the bookseller. I should be able to choose how much information is obtained and utilized by a book vendor, either directly on my behalf (e.g., on profile based recommending) or to enrich the experience of other readers (collaborative recommending).
  2. I own the books that I buy. Books are not munitions, nor they should they ever be subject to an end user license.
  3. A bookseller should never ever be able to remove a book from my account , or otherwise render a book unavailable, without my express permission. Never, never, never, ever. ( The 1984 clause.)
  4. Digital first sale. I should be able to associate any other reader account with my own for gifting and lending books, on a book by book basis, and at no additional cost, as long as the recipient agrees. These associations might be ephemeral, e.g. the duration of a loan, or persistent, e.g., my partner and I might choose to link our accounts. (One book, one loan).
  5. No DRM on purchased books. Readers should not be restricted in their ability to move their owned books among their devices, nor should any barriers be placed in the way of adding or removing devices to their account.
  6. Virtual bookshelves should be portable. Readers should be able to create bookshelves in an open format, such as OPDS, and be able to move them from one book platform to another. Over my reading lifetime, I may acquire books from different vendors, and the network-based associations for these titles should be portable. Book platforms should compete on services.
  7. I should be able to “mask” books. I should be able to selectively make private my purchases of books from other users or the vendor’s social systems. For reasons of personal health, sexual preferences, or other privacy matters, I should be able to cloak any otherwise permissible data harvesting for whichever books I choose.
  8. Book culling is a right. Readers should be able to permanently remove their purchased books from their bookshelves. Readers can throw or give away books they no longer want to own; it should be possible to delete books from a virtual bookshelf.
  9. Accounts should be cloud-resident. Readers should be able to manage multiple authorized accounts from any given device.
  10. Books are inviolate. I have a right to expect that the books that I buy will not have been maliciously altered, expurgated, or censored without explicit warning.

Add your suggestions!

2 Responses to “A proto bill of ebook management rights”

  1. John Mark Ockerbloom Says:

    It’s an appealing list, though I haven’t really thought much about “cloud”-based services and their interaction with these principles. Personally, I think I’d prefer personal, local management of my own ebookshelves, with the “cloud” only being used as a backup, transport, and transaction mechanism. There’s a certain tradeoff of convenience for privacy in doing that, but I think I’d prefer that.

    There’s one other tension I *have* thought about some, that’s worth thinking out, and that’s the tension between lack of DRM (in the sense of technical restrictions) and the secondary markets that arise under a robust right of first sale. In a nutshell, the problem is that unscrupulous sellers can “sell” the same DRM-free ebook any number of times, instead of deleting it after sale like they’re supposed to, and in the largely anonymized marketplace of the web, even a few such unscrupulous sellers can push out the honest ones by undercutting the prevailing “honest” price.

    If your marketplace mostly consists of honest people, though, as I believe the book market does, there are ways to deal with this problem. One is with softer “social” DRM, such as electronic bookplates that don’t technically prevent you from doing what you want with the books, but that contain data helping certify that your copy is from a genuine sale, and that you have rights to it. You can have trusted brokers to help you verify the certification, and update bookplate data appropriately when you sell the book to someone. Honest customers will deal with trusted bookplate services when making ebook transactions.

    Making such a system also protect reader privacy is more of a challenge, but one that’s addressable as well. Some of the CS
    research on “digital cash” (which is also designed to support
    transactional privacy, while at the same time keeping a hard limit on certified copies) may help with this problem.


  2. bowerbird Says:

    every word of every book ever published should be accessible
    at any time by every person on the entire surface of the earth.

    or else there will be a revolution. greedy capitalists beware…

    -bowerbird