In my last post, I discussed why I wanted to buy ebooks I could truly own, and my subsequent attempts to buy such a copy of John Scalzi’s Redshirts from a readers’-rights-friendly retailer. I initially had a hard time finding an ebook store that fulfilled three basic requirements:
- The store must sell a DRM-free copy of the book, in a convenient format. That eliminated specialized ebook stores that didn’t carry the title at all. Also, a number of major sites only had DRM-locked versions at first.
- The store must make the format and DRM-free status clear. Most mass-market ebooks are still locked down with DRM, and I don’t want to get stuck with that, either for this title or for other titles I might buy. So the store had to make it clear what I was buying, either by a notation on the book’s catalog page, or by a general policy stating that books they offered were DRM-free.
- The store must not require me to agree to give up my rights as a reader under copyright law. In particular, I would not consent to any terms of sale that significantly limited my rights of fair use or first sale. Fair use allows me to make copies of copyrighted material under certain conditions, such as quoting and critiquing a small portion in my own work, or making a complete personal copy of a TV show I’ve received or CD I’ve bought, for more convenient consumption. First sale lets me decide how to dispose of a book once I’ve bought it, including giving over the copy of something I’ve already lawfully acquired to someone else. (First sale rights also let libraries lend out books without having to ask publishers first.) Each of these rights has limits, and there are still disputes over how far these rights can be applied to digital content. But I didn’t want to pre-emptively sign away rights that copyright law might give me.
I didn’t think it would be that hard to find a retailer to meet these requirements. But here’s what I found when I went shopping:
Barnes and Noble: Since we owned a Nook, I first called up the store app on that device. The ebook was simply marked as a “Nook Book”, with no clear differentation between a DRM-free and a DRM-locked copy. (The current catalog page for the book now mentions in the overview that it’s being sold without DRM, though not very prominently.) I also recalled that to get access to the store in the first place, I had to click through a terms of service agreement. Reviewing that on the web turned up a clause saying I couldn’t “copy, transfer, sublicense, assign, rent, lease, lend, resell or in any way transfer any rights to all or any portion of the Digital Content to any third party” except under certain explicit, very limited conditions. In other words, give up first sale rights to anything I bought in the Nook store. Rather than do that, I moved on to another retailer.
Sony Reader store: Information on format and DRM status is not clear for its books. Based on Sony’s past history with DRM, there’s no way I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt with the formats they might use.
Independent bookstores: I also looked into whether I could buy an ebook through one of the independent bookstores I’ve liked shopping in. Unfortunately, they don’t seem to offer much. My local indie store doesn’t appear to sell ebooks at all, and Powell’s doesn’t offer seem to offer this title at present. Independents in the IndeBound ebook program appear to just be referral agents for Google Books.
So there’s at least one reasonably comprehensive and reader-friendly ebookstore out there. I’d be happy to hear about others as well. And I look forward to buying and owning more books, in both print and electronic formats.