Are the products and content you buy and enjoy owned by you? Do you have the right to switch formats, modify hardware, install software or make a personal copy?
Sony has been fighting for years to prevent customers from modding their Playstations, arguing that customers do not have the right to install unauthorised hardware or software (even accepting you void the warranty).
Movie and music distributors have long held the position that if you bought a cassette tape or video you have no right to the DVD version of the movie or song at simply the cost of the medium. You must buy the content again. Equally, in moving from DVDs to online, people in Australia do not have a legal right to download a movie or music they have already bought.
As more content is digitalised, this ownership debate is spreading, with the latest areas of contention being ebooks. It seems that at least one book publisher is arguing similarly that libraries may not enjoy unlimited lending rights to ebooks they purchase, despite being allowed to lend out a paper copy as many times as they like.
In response to fears that people will simply borrow these ebooks online, thereby cutting into book sales (which are already heavily moving online), Harper Collins has locked ebooks sold (via the OverDrive service) to libraries in the US and Canada. After 26 lends each ebook becomes unusable and the library must repurchase it to keep lending it out.
This move has prompted outrage amongst librarians across North America, and a number of libraries have already boycotted Harper Collins, refusing to buy any further books they publish, in any format, until the policy is changed.
If Harper Collins' decision is upheld, it may have major cost implications for public libraries in the future - as well as for organisations that maintain their own libraries, that buy business books for staff training purposes or even for citizens.
Imagine only being able to read a book, watch a movie or listen to music you'd purchased a publisher-designated number of times before being forced to re-buy it.
Oh - and I didn't mention that Harper Collins also wants to collect information on all readers borrowing ebooks from public libraries, so it can better understand and market to them.
That's not a particularly open or transparent world.
Here's some further articles discussing Harper Collins' decision:
- HarperCollins Puts 26 Loan Cap on Ebook Circulations
- Publishers Move To Limit Library E-Book Lending
- HarperCollins Seeks to Limit Digital Lending, Access Patron Data, Generally Piss Off Readers
- ALA President Criticizes HarperCollins Ebook Lending Policy
- Petition Protesting HarperCollins's Ebook Circulation Policy Takes Off