Kindle and Libraries

In yesterday’s New York Times, Claire Cain Miller and Miguel Helft reported on Apple’s tighter control of the App store.    TechCrunch then added that Apple’s moves may “foreshadow war with Amazon Kindle.” 

As Jason Kincaid writes: ” instead of beating Amazon on price or features, it looks like Apple might just cut them off. Or force them to use in-app payments, which give Apple a 30% cut and would kill Amazon’s margins. Amazon has avoided using Apple’s in-app payments system by kicking users to a browser to complete their transaction, but according to the NYT report . . .  it sounds like this will be banned.”

Just last week, Amazon announced a major event: Kindle book sales had finally passed paperback books sales on Amazon.com. (Last year, Kindle book sales outpaced hardcovers.)

With all of this swirling about (and very little mention of what this means for libraries), what should I see on our shelving truck? 

Gregory K. Laughlin has a new article in the University of Baltimore Law Review: “Digitization and Democracy:  The Conflict Between the Amazon Kindle License Agreement and the Role of Libraries in a Free Society.” (Volume 40, Number 1, Fall 2010)

Laughlin asks “whether libraries may lend e-books to patrons without violating the copyright owners’ exclusive right of distribution.”    He continues:

“Amazon, in the license agreement to which a purchaser of a  Kindle e-book must assent prior to downloading the e-book, retains ownership of the “Digital Content” (i.e. the e-book), and imposes a number of restrictions that are inconsistent with transfer of ownership to the purchaser, including prohibiting redistribution.  If libraries are not owners of the Kindle e-books they acquire, then by the explicit terms of the Amazon license agreement, as well as Section 106 of the Copyright Act, they may not lend the e-books to their patrons.”

….

“Are the license terms prohibiting the lending of e-books (and other digital content) enforceable under existing law? . . . If so, should the Copyright Act be amended to provide libraries with an inalienable right to lend e-books that is equivalent to their current right to lend printed books?”

Laughlin argues: “The right of libraries to lend e-books to their patrons should be inalienable…. There is still time for society as a whole to establish definitively what rights a library has to lend e-books that it acquires.  Congress should guarantee that the interests of the reading public are protected; and it should do so in a way that guarantees the same freedom of access to e-books that the public has enjoyed with physical books for well over a century.”