Buyer’s E-Morse: ‘Owning’ Digital Books

From today’s Wall Street Journal:

The Wall Street Journal, Thursday, July 23, 2009, p. A11


Buyer’s E-Morse: ‘Owning’ Digital Books

Purchasing Electronic Tomes Online Gives Readers Fewer Legal Rights to Share and Resell Than Hard-Copy Customers Enjoy

By Geoffrey A. Fowler

. . .

Sharing e-books puts libraries in a particular pickle. The Seattle Public Library has purchased 30,000 e-books and digital-audio books for its patrons to borrow. But those e-books don’t reside anywhere at the library. Instead, it has a continuing license to them provided by a company. In exchange for maintenance fees and a full purchase price for each e-book, Overdrive Inc. runs lending systems for Seattle and 9,000 other libraries.

When a patron wants to check out an e-book, Overdrive allows them to download a copy with software that causes the file to become unreadable after a due date — after which another patron can check out that “copy.”

. . .

But there are strings attached: Overdrive’s books can be read on computer screens and on Sony’s Reader device, yet aren’t compatible with Amazon’s Kindle — . . .
And should Overdrive ever go out of business — or should something happen to its centralized collection — the Seattle library’s huge e-book collection could theoretically disappear . . .

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