You Don’t Own Your Ebooks – You “Rent” Them

Most people don’t realise that their expensive ebooks are not actually theirs, but are actually merely rented or perhaps better said, leased to them.

As the recent case of the lady in Norway has highlighted yet again, (see below for link to that story) we do not own our ebooks, we merely have a license to read them  but ownership remains firmly with the copyright holder and the online store your paid good money to for the ebook.  This means, as Amazon so inelegantly demonstrated to the world it has the legal power to remove all your ebooks from your ereader at any time, without comment  and certainly no repayment for the money you spent on buying them.

This of course as far as I know, only applies to ebooks that have the dreaded DRM protection (protection against illegal copying that means) and the origins of this weird situation lie in the fact that an ebook is nothing more than a digital file, exactly the same as the software you use on your computer, which, by the way, if you read the terms and conditions when you instal any new software, you will see it is also only a license to use, not proper and full ownership, that remains with the owner of the program, not you.  But I have never heard of any software company removing software from customers computers.

Given that more and more ereader users are not necessarily computer literate, and with most modern ereaders having no need of a computer, it is absurd to imagine that they will understand this strange idea of licensing rather than full ownership.   And are thus in the happy illusion that the ebooks on their ereader actually belong to them.   As has been pointed out by quite a few bloggers in the last few days, Amazon, and most online ebook sellers use terms such as “1-click buy“, or “buy this ebook” and similar, all of which encourages people to imagine that they are actually buying the ebook in question… Nowhere will you see a button saying something like “buy the license now” or anything that would make you realise you are merely renting the ebook, not buying it.

This is tantamount to being misleading, and it seems to me that it is high time that this whole sorry mess was sorted out by our esteemed governments on the grounds of unfair trading and misleading advertising, if nothing else.

I have given a lot of thought to this matter, and still can find no compelling logical reason for its existence..  If it is somehow intended to stop illegal copying of ebooks, how does it do that? Any fool can “rent” an ebook from Amazon or wherever, copy it instantly (having removed the DRM protection, which is a simple matter), and then distribute the ebook at will, so it is a definite fail as far as preventing illegal copying.   Otherwise I simply can’t think of any reason why we should be lumbered with this ludicrous and totally unfair situation.

Link to post about this:  Amazon “steal” Customer’s ebooks

Share with us:

Do you have any idea why we have to license rather than buy our ebooks, and can you think up a reason why this practice should not be declared illegal and stopped?

6 thoughts on “You Don’t Own Your Ebooks – You “Rent” Them

  1. Richard Adin

    Tony, you wrote: “But I have never heard of any software company removing software from customers computers.” That’s because it would be almost impossible for a software company to access your personal computer. You don’t register your computer with a software company and no company would put out a software update that removes the software from millions of computers simulataneously just to get at your computer. BUT you will see this in the future as companies force the move to cloud computing. This is one of the great dangers to cloud computing, along with giving software companies a blanket license to charge you for the software every year (or more often) without giving any new value. I’m already seeing this with some of my specialty software.

    You also asked: “Do you have any idea why we have to license rather than buy our ebooks?” The answer is yes, I do. It is because of the difference between a pbook and an ebook’s ability to be shared. Although ultimately you could share your pbook with hundreds of friends, the reality is no one does. We might share a pbook we bought with as many as 4 or 5 friends and in serial fashion, but that is it; our reading social circles simply are not that large. OTOH, an ebook can be shared immediately and simultaneously (rather than serially) with millions of people — friends or not — over the Internet, which would destroy the value of the work. Without DRM many readers would post an ebook they bought to the Internet and would download other ebooks rather than buying them. (This is not to say that I agree with DRM in its current form; I am just responding to your question.)

    You also asked: “You think up a reason why this practice should not be declared illegal and stopped?” There are competing interests at stake and the answer has to lie between the two extremes of the DRM used today by publishers and no DRM at all. In addition, what should be enforced is that once a person purchases an ebook, the publisher/vendor of the ebook should be required to give the purchaser access to the ebook for the person’s lifetime regardless of the device the person uses except if the person is found to have illegally distributed the ebook, in which case the person’s right of access could be revoked.

    Reply
    1. Tony Post author

      Rich, to answer all your interesting points I would have to write another full post on the topic (which I may well do). But for now:

      Your point about software companies not removing software from our computers makes sense, but given the fact that most of us are now more or less permanently on line, I can imagine it wouldn’t be too hard for them to remove software from our computers if they really wanted to. But your comment about the risks of keeping our “installed” software on the cloud is well made – and taken. That is obviously a manner in which they can denude us of our paid for software, should they wish to. But have they? I rather doubt it.

      You are of course correct about the problem of illegal copies of ebooks, but as I pointed out, and as we all know, the current forms of DRM in no way prevent this taking place, so that one is a non-stater for me. I suspect that we will end up with a sort of middle ground system, perhaps along the lines of Pottermore’s watermark like system. So when we buy an ebook, we can bung it onto any device of ours, lend it to friends, and do all the things we currently do with paper books, but not sell thousands of copies illegally, at least not without a very real risk of getting caught.

      Basically what we should all be aiming for is a situation in which ebooks are the same (as far as ownership goes) as paper ones. So we can lend them, sell them, throw them away, lose them and so on, but only with the one copy. However, I see no reason why ebook sellers should replace our ebooks if we lose them, any more than paper book sellers have to replace our paper books should we lose them. Be nice if they would, but not really necessary. it is surely our responsibility to look after our possessions?

      On the subject of being charged annually for a software package – or ebook – I can’t really comment, as I have not run into this particular problem, but it sounds dubious to me, to say the least, unless there is a real update or similar being offered in exchange, or if the annual charges are reasonably low, and a real technical service is offered in exchange.

      Reply
    1. Tony Post author

      Thanks Rich…. Interesting reading, even if it is encouraging illegal acts on the part of us readers of ebooks….. But there comes a time when instead of pouring tea into the harbour we need to de-DRM our ebooks … sadly.

      Reply
  2. Richard Adin

    Tony, you wrote: “But your comment about the risks of keeping our “installed” software on the cloud is well made – and taken. That is obviously a manner in which they can denude us of our paid for software, should they wish to. But have they? I rather doubt it.”

    Think about this. You buy a Microsoft Office 2020 which is only available as cloud subscription. All access is in the cloud and all work is saved in the cloud — this is where software companies are heading. Microsoft charges you $50 for a 1-year subscription. In 2021, you decide that the 2020 version of Office is great and see no need to “upgrade” to the 2021 version. But Microsoft decides (a) you only have a 1-year subscription that is now expired and (b) everyone must upgrade to Office 2021. What do you do?

    If you say no, then Microsoft simply cuts you off because your subscription is no longer current and it is no longer supporting Office 2020. Have you been “denuded”? I think so.

    Is this fantasy? Not really. Quicken tries to do this with Quickbooks by stopping all support 3 years after a product is released. And what about antivirus software? They are updated every year and you need to renew your subscription. Failure to renew your subscription doesn’t literally strip you of the software but makes the software eventually unusable.

    Once everything is in the cloud, companies will be able to selectively cut users off. Right now that is not so easy. What you see with Amazon is a preview of things to come with cloud computing.

    You also wroite: “You are of course correct about the problem of illegal copies of ebooks, but as I pointed out, and as we all know, the current forms of DRM in no way prevent this taking place, so that one is a non-stater for me.”

    It shouldn’t be a nonstarter. My 90-year-old father has no clue how to strip DRM. My 60-year-old neighbor has no clue. My 37-year-old neighbor also has no clue. And none of them know what I am talking about when I suggest pirating sites. None of these people currently share ebooks with anyone else because they don’t know how to strip DRM and don’t know anything about the pirate sites and aren’t interested in learning how to do so. But give them an already DRM-free ebook file, and they will not think twice about sharing because that is what they do with pbooks. DRM helps minimize what would otherwise be wholly out of control.

    You are right that DRM does not wholly prevent sharing now. But it does limit the extent of sharing.

    Finally, you wrote: “On the subject of being charged annually for a software package – or ebook – I can’t really comment, as I have not run into this particular problem, but it sounds dubious to me, to say the least, unless there is a real update or similar being offered in exchange, or if the annual charges are reasonably low, and a real technical service is offered in exchange.”

    If you use a paid-for antivirus program, you have run into the problem. If you use a fee AV program, you also face the problem because updates and support are at the mercy of the vendor. If you use a paid-for AV program that you haven’t renewed your subscription for, you experience the cutoff.

    Reply
  3. Tony Post author

    Hmmm…… Yes, you are right about the dodgy future with software that is up there in the clouds… And the idea of having all my data up there as well, rather than locally on my hard disk gives me worries. OK, so software companies will probably start playing those nasty games ere long too.

    I use Drop box as a cloud back up, but the way it works is that everything is also backed up on my computer and my wife’s computer, so even if Drop Box goes belly up, my data is safe.

    Also as you point out, anti-virus programs require one to renew (pay) every year. But what one us paying for is a service after all.. both program updates and more importantly, virus definition files, so there is an exchange, I pay, they give me value. Not the same as simply demanding money every so often simply to allow me to continue to use an unchanged bit of software. Unless, I was paying a rental fee, set at an appropriate level for rental as opposed to purchase, I would be very unhappy with that idea, and would look elsewhere for a software solution to my problems.
    Don’t forget that if MS try and insist on me using an online version of Office, then I can always go over to Open Office – which in fact I use right now.

    Now to your elderly non-cpmputer friends.. You are once again completely right. But they are not the ones who put illegally copied ebooks onto torrents, any more than they would photocopy a paper book to sell to everyone. so I stand by what I wrote in my answer to your comment above… a sort of halfway system has to be found that genuinely protects the absolutely valid interests of publishers and writers from too much piracy, but also allows us to own and use our ebooks in whatever way we see fit, bit as a single copy only. Away with all those different ebook formats, or perhaps, have several universal formats that meet differing ebook needs, as we currently have with audio and graphic formats, which can be read by all ereaders.

    Actually Rich, we are both in full agreement with each other when you come down to it, we simply are seeing things in a slightly different manner…. which is as it should be, keeps things interesting and is making me think, never a bad idea.

    Reply

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