Monday, May 30, 2011

The problem with eBooks

I love reading. Since I was a child, nothing has given me more happy memories or flights of fancy than reading has. So when eBooks started to come to the market, especially with more affordably priced readers like the Nook or Kindle, I almost couldn't contain my sheer excitement as I lined up to hand over my money to the sales clerk and assure a piece of reading history.

The ebook experience has been, for the most part, amazing. The idea that I could fit hundreds of my favorite books on a digital device that took up less room than a single physical book enchanted me and I quickly built quite an impressive digital library. I was a happy camper. Then, one day, I wanted to lend one of my ebooks to a friend the way I'd done countless times over the years with paper books. That's when I first experienced the dark side of digital books and it nearly completely ruined the value of ebooks for me.

Digital Rights Management (which is really a misnomer since the technology actually restricts your rights) is a technology who's sole goal is to allow publishers to control how you use your ebooks. DRM is used to control other digital goods like music too but the goal is always the same: to control how you use content that you purchased. It's *your* property but you do not have control over it. Instead, you are granted a license to read or listen to the content but not to share it with anyone else for almost any purpose.

eBook publishers have gone to great lengths to take away your right to share your favorite books with your friends. Amazon, the biggest ebook seller in the United States has finally allowed Kindle users to loan their books to friends but that comes with all sorts of restrictions that really make it not worth doing in the end. For example, you can only loan your book out for a specific length of time and only a specific number of times. If the person being loaned the book can't read it in that set time, too bad, they don't get another shot even though there's no *real* reason for this restriction since you don't have access to the book while it's on loan.

The most concerning thing to me is that our children are getting used to these restrictions and, while you and I might remember the joy of loaning a book to a friend, there will be a time in the very near future where they won't. An entire generation will eventually grow up almost entirely on ebooks complete with all the restrictions and they won't even know to fight them because that will be all they've ever known.

That's why it's so important to fight DRM on ebooks today. We don't want the right to copy books endlessly and put them up on file sharing sites to deprive authors and publishers revenue. We gladly pay for our books. We just want ebooks to be treated like what they are: a digitized version of a physical product. There is no reason for digital products to carry any more or less restrictions than their physical counterparts and it's time those of us who value both our shared reading community and our freedoms to stop greedy publishers from needlessly restricting our rights just to increase profits.

I personally have decided to purchase ebooks that respect my rights and from booksellers that do the same whenever possible. I encourage you to do the same because what we're fighting for is much more than our right to share books. We're fighting for the future of the freedom to read and use the products we purchase in any way we want. When we purchase a physical book, we own it. We aren't purchasing a license to read it. We wouldn't accept draconian restrictions on our physical possessions, why are we accepting them on our digital goods?

1 comment:

okcwa said...

Very well said, and I agree completely.