eBooks and the fine print

Ebooks are increasingly popular as ereaders like the Kindle become cheaper and more readily available. I bought a Kindle DX a couple weeks ago and I love it. It is easy to buy books and other publications and even transfer my small library of PDF ebooks onto it to read. I am not alone and while I have no idea how many Kindles Amazon ships to South Africa, I see the ereader adoption only increasing in the years to come, particularly as ebooks can be read on a number of platforms. Kindle books can be read on PCs, Macs, major smartphones, iPads and, of course, Kindle ereaders.

As convenient and accessible as ebooks are, it is worth considering the licensing implications for the ebooks you buy and even the ereaders you prefer to use to read those books. Buying a physical book is a pretty straightforward transaction, both practically and legally, but when it comes to ebooks, it could be a very different story. The EFF has a YouTube channel with some terrific education and public service videos including this video highlighting the legal complexities of ebooks. Next time you buy an ebook, pay attention to the terms and conditions governing your use of the ebook. You may find the terms and conditions as thrilling as your book.

The EFF has published an in-depth whitepaper titled “Digital Books and Your Rights: A Checklist for Readers” which examines many of the legalities that ebooks evoke.

After several years of false starts, the universe of digital books seems at last poised to expand dramatically. Readers should view this expansion with both excitement and wariness. Excitement because digital books could revolutionize reading, making more books more findable and more accessible to more people in more ways than ever before. Wariness because the various entities that will help make this digital book revolution possible may not always respect the rights and expectations that readers, authors, booksellers and librarians have built up, and defended, over generations of experience with physical books.

As new digital book tools and services roll out, we need to be able to evaluate not only the cool features they offer, but also whether they extend (or hamper) our rights and expectations.

It is worth reading the whitepaper (you can download a PDF version too) if you are interested in how your rights could be affected or moulded by the fine print in your ebook sale terms and conditions.


The Electronic Frontier Foundation, the EFF, is an influential and enormously helpful organisation in the United States which keeps an eye on threats to digital rights. Its Deep Links blog is a treasure trove of knowledge and information about topics ranging from Facebook privacy issues to patents, copyright and even net neutrality concerns such as the recent Google/Verizon debacle.

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