An item from the Library Law Blog Blog got me thinking. Can you actually own an e-book? For the long term, I mean, as I still have books that my grandparents bought when they were young?
What’s brillilant about books is the fact that hardware (paper) and software (letters) are inextricably bound to each other and remain so. You don’t need to update a book in order for it to remain readable. Almost every other type of content storage requires two components: a record – a record player, a DVD - a DVD player and now, with the e-book, an e-book reader. And with this, access to the content of books is also subject to technological development and to proprietary issues. Amazon books are only readable on the Kindle, Barnes & Noble books only on the Nook. And e-readers also will, of course, continue to develop. Five years from now will you be able to read a book on a first generation e-reader? Which reminds me of my Master’s thesis, which I wrote at the end of the ‘80s on an Atari, which undoubtedly is not longer functional. No great loss. But I’m very happy that I can still read the books I bought during that period.
For e-books that I purchase on Amazon, I may have to buy a new version of the Kindle every two or three years (though surely it will become much cheaper soon), but at least I don’t have to pay a monthly platform fee. It’s a different case with libraries, and this raises the question of what happens when the contract with the provider ends or the provider goes bankrupt. All of the e-books you’ve “purchased” suddenly are no longer accessible. Because they weren’t actually purchased, but only “leased”.
The Library Law Blog item presents several scenarios, and closes with: “What I suspect most libraries would like is to be able to actually purchase an ebook, have a copy of it on a local server (the equivalent of a shelf in the local library), and then allow an unlimited number of patrons to check out the title. I don’t see this ever happening.” This is the same situation the Goethe-Institut faces with the provider it is working with: “…If a library cancels its contract with us, users’ access to content [expires] … copyright law does not allow for copies to be archived, nor are publishers in Germany willing to grant this.”
E-books are practical and space-saving, but whoever – individual or library – wishes to own a book seemingly has no alternative to buying the printed version.