Wednesday, 21 September 2011

E-books are like 'Ikea breaking into your house late at night to take their bookcase back’

IKEA EXPEDIT Goodness! by tomas carrillo, on FlickrAn interesting point that was brought up in class last night was the ownership of e-books and downloadable music.  This is not something I had actually considered since I am not in the habit of considering legal ownership of the things that I listen to or read. Perhaps this is because it is logically engrained in us that when we take a physical book out of the library it still belongs to the library because it is usually covered in their labels and funny plastic covering.  The issue comes when we receive information in different formats from the library or online sources.

Many libraries nowadays are providing e-books and music on CDs.  There are several online sites providing downloadable e-books too so what exactly is the ownership of these items?

Let's take the music in libraries first:

There is nothing to stop you from copying your own CD onto your own computer so that you can transfer it onto your iPOD etc. (note the emphasis on 'you').  This is legal since you have purchased the music and you are merely shifting that information from one medium to another and are not creating a new product.  If you were burning the CD onto the computer in order to give a copy to someone else then that is illegal.

In libraries, however, if someone takes out a CD and burns it onto their iPOD, computer etc. then they are acting illegally since they have created a new product for which they have not paid.

I do not pretend to understand the legality surrounding this but I think I have accurately covered the basics above...well, enough for me to know that I shouldn't be copying library CDs!  I feel that an image of Justin Timberlake as Napster founder, Shawn Fanning is completely justified.

The Social Network

What about e-books?

Well, e-books, as with music, are not owned by those who download them but are only licensed to be used by that person.  So when someone downloads a book they do not own that book but own the license to read it.  The Ikea quote above came about during a discussion concerning a particularly interesting and ironic story from 2009 concerning Amazon's Kindle and Orwell's 1984 and Animal Farm.  These were made available for download via Amazon by a company who did not have the right to do so and so Amazon remotely removed these e-books from their customers' Kindles.  (They had sent out a warning e-mail so it wasn't quite as freaky as it could have been).  This highlights the lack of authority the user has over their licensed products and unnerving accessibility of Amazon to your data.  

Not sure how popular Big Brother is over here but it was big in the UK
Kangaroo by semuthutan, on Flickr
Sorry, Darren
Another point, rather unrelated, that was brought up last night was the effect that participants have on a conversation. Librarians cannot be passive components in the conversation between people and information.  The fact that the library exists, houses information, provides access to information all affect any conversations that take part involving the library.  Prof. Lankes pointed out that librarians are biased, everyone is biased since we are all human.  Everything affects a conversation whether intentional or not.  As an example he referred to the dead kangaroos on his feet which certainly affected the conversation for the vegetarians in the class.  Every part of Prof. Lankes will affect the discussion and every part of the room will.  Once we embrace this fact we will hopefully all become more open to participate in discussion and conversation with library members in the fight to "improve society through the facilitating knowledge creation in the community" (no extra points for identifying where that's from!)


  1. Dan: Enjoyed this. You have a nice writing style =)

    I'd like to hear your thoughts about lending books (physical) vs music (say a CD). How are the ethics affected by the fact that once you've finished a book you (most people*) are satiated and unlikely to read it again. It is 'consumed'. Music however is listened to over and over. When you return the CD you are likely to feel a sense of loss since you will likely want to hear that song again.

    Now consider ebooks and mp3s. It feels socially unacceptable to lend (copy) EITHER type of media to a friend even though in the case of the ebook, the physical equivalent seems ok. In fact the act of (physical) book lending might even bestow upon the participants a sheen of culture and refinement. Should lending books really be entirely acceptable? Why don't authors complain about this (or do they)?

    *I know bookworms like Jennie Blake consume books like music, avidly rereading to enjoy the experience over again, but most people I would say read most books just once.

    Me: Hmm, interesting points you make there, Dan. I hadn't thought about the idea of music being reused whereas books are consumed.

    So, what I have noticed is that libraries are not big on lending music but use their AV collections for books on tape or films rather than music. This could be due to the vast quantities of downloadable music nowadays. I completely agree that music is 'reusable' while books are less so (although many people will reread as you point out). Authors are, as far as I know, in favour of libraries since they allow their work to be spread to those who might not otherwise have access to it. Libraries allow greater access to material and facilitate knowledge creation. The reason that there are issues concerning ebooks etc. is that ebooks do not belong to the person downloading them but are only licensed to them - libraries can lend books out because they own them. Licenses are a strange concept to me and I don' fully understand the ethics behind them. Presumably it should prevent you from copying etc. because you have not paid for the right to own it.

    I may actually bring this up in class next week since it is an interesting topic...I completely agree that there is a sort of social standing related to loaning books or sitting in a coffee shop reading a grown-up looking book - that may well just be a falsely created image. The lending though is presumably ok because of the ownership but I wouldn't be surprised if authors were peeved at individuals lending their books when they could be making money from it. But then, should individuals lending be that different from libraries lending? The mission of libraries is to facilitate knowledge creation but what is the individual's mission? It could be the same...I hope you're happy, have made me very confused and needing to have a conversation with someone (since conversations are the key to knowledge). I hope my rambling has made you think too!

  2. Sorry for responding so late...

    The legal territory that allows libraries to even exist and function the way that they do is remarkably interesting to me. As appreciative as I am of Dr. Lankes' explanation of that legal territory, I think it worth while for myself and fellow library students to spend a month or so studying up on the processes of liscensing agreements and the policies of ownership.

    Do you find it ironic at all how for an institution created to provide level an unbridled access of information to the public, we're terribly caught up with moderating that access due to legal structures? There's something vaguely anarchist in the challenge that libraries--and piracy technologies--could present to the market of media and information resources.

    Plus... the kangaroos :(