The Readers' Bill of Rights for Digital Books

We have constructed the Readers' Bill of Rights for Digital Books as a set of guidelines that can be consulted when purchasing a digital book, a collection of electronic books, or an ebook reading device. We especially hope it will be useful for those who purchase said items for permanent library collections.

As readers of traditional print materials, we are already guaranteed all of these rights--and we should not be denied them due to the medium in which we are reading.

The Readers' Bill of Rights for Digital Books:
1. Ability to retain, archive and transfer purchased materials
2. Ability to create a paper copy of the item in its entirety
3. Digital Books should be in an open format (e.g. you could read on a computer, not just a device)
4. Choice of hardware to access books (e.g. in 3 years when your device has broken, you can still read your book on other hardware)
5. Reader information will remain private (what, when and how we read will not be stored, sold or marketed)

We invite conversation and discussion of this document. It is released under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License

I'd be interested in hearing

I'd be interested in hearing the thought behind:

2. Ability to create a paper copy of the item in its entirety

As I understand it, while this is of course possible with printed material, it is a violation of copyright. As such, I'm wondering why this would be included in the bill of rights?

In the presence of DRM, I can understand having a "plan b" in the form of a printed copy. That being said, in the presence of #3 and #4, I don't quite understand #2.

if i had to guess i'd guess

if i had to guess i'd guess it was to maintain accessibility when no digital reader was available.

I'm happy to see that others

I'm happy to see that others (Christopher and hapa) have already touched upon our reasoning behind #2.

It is common for libraries and individuals, under fair use, to create a copy, in full, of an item that they own. If you worry that an ebook you purchased might "disappear," for example, it would not be illegal to create a paper copy. In libraries, this is often referred to as a "preservation" copy. As hapa points out, if ebook technologies change, you should still have access to your property. You should be able to print it, in its entirety, if you choose to.

We’re interested to foster systems in which one is allowed to use their own judgment of what constitutes fair use. We do not believe that a machine or a device should control what, where or how you read.

In my library, I've never been told by a reader that they are happy that they can't print from an ebook. I have, however, had countless students tell me that they think that the restrictions on ebooks are horrible, and that it's crazy that they can't use the books we purchased/rented/licensed (because more and more often we don't actually "purchase" ebooks) in whatever format they choose—and for most, this is paper.

Print is still the medium that most of the students I work with (urban overscheduled working students) prefer, because a paper copy of a text can be read on the subway, without having to purchase a dedicated device, and without access to an internet connection. In my library system, often we do not purchase a printed book if an electronic one has already been acquired (because our budgets are continually restricted and shrinking). Thus, the only available version of a text might be a completely locked ebook (viewable online only, w/o print/save/export).

For my students, if we've purchased/rented/licensed an ebook that can't be printed, saved, or read offline, we've ultimately made that text unusable to them for their studies. This bothers me every day. This project, for me, is to help make others aware of what I see at the reference desk each day and how we can create digital publications that will encourage free, over permission and restrictions, culture.

I like this, and will ponder

I like this, and will ponder including the badge and a link to this website in my blog. I've already CC'd it.


"2. Ability to create a paper copy of the item in its entirety

As I understand it, while this is of course possible with printed material, it is a violation of copyright. As such, I'm wondering why this would be included in the bill of rights?"

It is *sometimes* a violation of copyright. And sometimes, it is not. Take a look at this very fine book, for example:

It is also legal to make unlimited copies of any book over 100 years old, such as Uncle Tom's Cabin or the Bible.

You will note that it says "ability" to hit file -> print, not "legal right". What is being asked for is the same abilities that have existed for books since the dawn of history. What is being asked for is that invasive technology not be used to remove this ability.

What happens when political leaders use invasive means (such as threat of execution, or the law) to ban the copying or publication of material? Humanity risks losing it. At the very least, certain persons in certain geographical areas risk losing access to it. A tragedy.

Book banning still exists in certain parts of the world, US Corporations should not be creating and implementing technology that helps dictators screw their people over.

TLDR Version:
If you don't want someone selling copies of your work, then you should copyright it appropriately and contact law enforcement if you discover a violation. You should not attempt to digitally colonize the computers or devices of other people. It's rude, to say the least.



Open Format

"3. Digital Books should be in an open format (e.g. you could read on a computer, not just a device)"

Amazon allows reading of their DRMed books on kindles, PCs, Macs, iPhones, and Android phones. All of this is done in a closed format. I'd like this changed to say "you could read on competing readers or computers, or write your own program to read it."

re: Open Format

It seems to me that by definition an "open" format allows the creation of Free Software permitting the editing and creation of files in that format. I agree that this right (#3) could possibly be misinterpreted due to the use of proprietary formats that temporarily grant the privilege of moving content around, or the use of open-format files onto which DRM has been placed as a container.

You make a good point, and we'll keep it in mind as we make plans to write a new version of this document. We don't know exactly what form the revision process will take, but public input and discussion will be included.

Transformative Rights

This exchange occurred via email and is worth posting here:

Anonymous wrote:
> I think your readers bill of rights is missing 2 important aspects
> with respect to ebooks.
> The right to transform -- I must be able to read the ebook on any
> devices I have for any reason.

Thanks for responding to the Readers' Bill of Rights for Digital Books (RBRfDB) and bringing up transformation. I think transformation is essential as well. I have a couple of reasons why I think the 5 points we already have cover transformation:

* Right #3 is about ebooks being in an open format. If ebooks are in an open format, then by definition it is possible to write an editor for them and distribute that editor as free software.

* Right #4 is choice of hardware. If you control your hardware -- i.e. it is not Tivoized as the Kindle, i{Phone,Pad}, etc. are, or otherwise locked, then you can install a free editor and edit to your heart's content.

Another reason transformation is not explicitly mentioned is that we are concerned with keeping our RBRfDB focused on the transition that is taking place between printed materials and digital materials.

Digital materials will, ideally, make transformation of texts much easier than it was with printed material. I don't feel strongly that this is an ability that we are likely to lose, assuming of course that our 5 rights in the RBRfDB are respected.

That of course leaves aside the copyright implications of making modifications to books. We are trying our best to avoid confronting copyright in a head-on manner, particularly since we're not lawyers and we're not advocating new legal paradigms.

While we are critical of copyright, we are focused on the print-to-digital transition, and in the pre-digital world of books, copyright restrictions did exist, even if there was no DRM. That's the state of affairs we hope to maintain, and more progressive reforms of copyright law are a separate issue.

> The right to produce meta-data. I must be able to read, index,
> cross-reference and analyze said ebook.

I believe this is similar to transformation, in that it is appending data to an existing piece of data, unless I misunderstand what kind of meta-data you mean.

With respect to whether or not a particular implementation of an ebook reader has the necessary *features* to do this, I would prefer not to politically demand that libraries and consumers choose software based on specific practical abilities, because I believe they will use their best judgment based on budget and needs.

On the other hand, I would like to politically demand that librarians and vendors of hardware not force users to agree to contractual or legal restrictions that violate the Readers' Bill of Rights for Digitial Books.

> This somewhat overlaps the lack of discrimination between formats
> but really what I'm getting at is that I should be able to use tools
> used on other documents on my ebooks. I should be allowed to
> transform the data to suit my personal needs.

I agree, but I believe that is a technical challenge, and if we avoid EULAs, DRM, and proprietary formats, we can meet the technical challenge by simply creating good software.

#1 Right

I think that right number 1 needs to be modified. Where it says 'purchased', it should say 'legally acquired'. I'd like to believe we have the same rights whether we received the e-book as a gift or if we inherited it.

Thanks for all your efforts!


You're right; if an author or publisher gives their work away for free, then their work would not have been "purchased" as well. We'll keep this in mind with subsequent versions of the RBRfDB, which we'll be developing soon. Thanks!


I would have to agree that there should eb something to guarantee usage of books should the device fail. The comanies however would argue thatyou just need to buy another device from them, but, as we have seen with several companies in other industries, and now further eveidence by Borders' recent trouubles - what if the compmay isn't here anymore either?

As far as printing a hard copy there is definite merit to this, especially with regard to text books. I have used ebooks for classes and had major issues when the professor would allow an open book test but did not allow ebooks if not on a reader (no laptops or ipads).

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