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Monday, October 02, 2006

No, you can't share.

That's something you don't hear every day...or at least it's something I haven't heard often. When I was growing up, I was taught to share. It's nice to share.

I like to be nice.

But when it comes to ebooks, it's NOT nice to share.

Why is that? Why can't you share ebooks? After all, if you bought the book, you should be able to do anything you want with it. Right? When you buy a paperback book, you can toss it in the trash. You can loan it to your best friend...who never returns anything she borrows. You can sell it to the highest bidder on eBay. You should be able to do the same thing with an ebook. It's your right. You paid for the darned thing...


This is the part where I'm going to quote a friend of mine, who happens to be an attorney. She is SO MUCH BETTER at explaining this legal stuff...but in a nutshell, she's stating you CAN legally do most anything you want with something you physically possess--something you can hold in your hands. But the problem is, an ebook doesn't fall into that broad category (an ebook reader does).

So, following is a very clear explanation of why ebooks are different from treebooks--in relation to sharing, swapping, selling, etc.
I'm constantly asked why it's OK to lend someone a print book but it's not OK to do the same with an ebook.

The answer is really quite simple.

With a print book, you actually have tangible personal property as well as intangible intellectual property. The intellectual property involved is the creation of the author--the creative work itself contained within the pages of the book. This is what the copyright protects--the author's expression. However, since it is in print and can be held in your hands, it's also personal property. The reader purchases the book. While they didn't purchase the copyright, they purchased the physical book. This is where the first sale doctrine kicks in. Once the "first sale" has been made, the purchaser can do anything with it that they so choose (other than infringement the work of course). Since they've purchased the physical book, they can dispose of it in any matter that they so choose, much as with any other form of personal property, inclduing reselling it or lending it to someone. When they lend someone their copy, they no longer have that copy in their own hands. It is now in the hands of the other person. There is still only one copy involved.

However, with ebooks, when you email the story to your friend, you're actually creating additional copies of the work. Your initial purchased copy remains on your hard drive and in your sent mail, and now there's a second (or possibly third, fourth, fifth, you get the point) copy out there on the hard drive of the receipient. This recipient can then email a copy to their friend, and the recipient's copy still remains with them while they've caused a third copy to be made in their friend's email. And it goes on and on. Since one of the exclusive rights of the copyright holder is the right to make copies, you've just massively infringeed that right when you share the work with someone else, even if you're only intending for them to "borrow" it, simply because you're still free to read while they're "borrowing" it. You didn't lose your personal copy because it was never personal property. It was intangible property, which is infinitely divisible.

By Amanda Brice, Attorney and Author
SHE'S GOT LEGS--coming late June 2006 from Freya's Bower
"A Perfect Match" available in June 2006 issue of Lyrica

posted by Tawny Taylor at 8:41 AM |


Commented by Blogger Bernita:

Beautifully explained!
Thank you.
It's not enough to "know" something is wrong. We like to know exactly "why" it is wrong.

7:52 AM 
Commented by Blogger M.E Ellis:

I've always wondered why print books could be resold, same with CDs or DVDs. Now I understand.



5:25 AM 

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