Ebooks are only leased, not sold? That depends

On one hand, I appreciate the number of writers who are recognizing that many (most?) library and personal “purchases” of ebooks aren’t really purchases at all, since the “buyer” doesn’t actually have much in the way of rights to the ebook. That’s probably true for most Big Publisher ebooks; it’s apparently true for most Kindle ebooks and many others.

On the other hand…

Sometimes you can buy ebooks.

Lots of ebooks are sold without DRM.

Lulu never required DRM for its ebooks–and a few months ago, it stopped allowing DRM on its ebooks–if you wanted to keep selling ebooks through Lulu, you had to strip the DRM (which it had always charged extra for, as one way to discourage it).

Since mid-2012, Tor and Forge–both imprints of Macmillan–have produced DRM-free ebooks available through all the usual channels. Tor’s a very big name in science fiction, and says the change in policy hasn’t hurt sales.

If I had to guess, I’d guess a growing number of independent publishers are leaving DRM off their ebooks.

As far as I’m concerned, if an ebook lacks DRM, you can buy it. Do you have full first-sale rights? You should. Whether you do…that may be for further clarification.

My own clarification

Let me be clear about any of my Lulu-distributed ebooks (all PDF):

When you buy one, you own it.

If you want to make backup copies of the PDF, please do.

If you want to lend it to somebody else (presumably not reading it yourself at the time), feel free.

If you want to give it to somebody else (presumably deleting your copy), that’s fine.

If you want to sell it to somebody else (presumably deleting your copy), that’s fine too.

If you want to have it available on sixteen different devices that you use at different times or places, OK with me.

You own it.

As to the “presumably” clauses–I rely on good faith and ethical behavior.

Oh, if you’re a library: That one copy can legally, legitimately, ethically be mounted on a library ebook server that restricts use to one person at a time. You own the copy.

For cases where single-user restrictions aren’t reasonable? On newer books, I’m providing a “site license version” that explicitly allows multi-reader access assuming reasonable identification of a library’s or campus’ patrons/students/whatever. Those books will cost four times as much as the single-user version. The license is a matter of honor and good faith. (I suppose there are less litigious people than I am, but not by much…)

So when someone says you can’t buy ebooks….the proper answer is “That depends.” Sometimes you can. I have a feeling “sometimes” will grow.

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