Odyssey Online

Friday Blogging, Licensing Agreements

January 8, 2010 · No Comments

…just before the holidays Jessmyn West over at librarian.net got to blogging about e-books.  In objecting to some promotion Amazon.com was doing, she made the assertions that

The idea of owning materials or accessing them via digital technologies as a controversy withered years ago for librarians, just think about all the stuff we have only electronic access to.  Yet, with the Kindle this question now bleeds over into personal book collections, into everyone’s interaction with what we have, up to this moment, thought of as books, and it seems to have energized energized the ownership v. access question enough,  to give pause. Because, stated simply, Jessmyn’s right–you don’t own an ebook.

A big part of the issue is with Amazon is their inability to clarify what exactly the terms of the license for content are. As Thomas Claburn reported in Information Week, Amazon had to amend/clarify policies on deleted books (after one lease had expired) after controversy and accompanying rumors swirled. This and concerns of Google privacy policies have brought to the fore that licenses for digital content are not static, they aren’t, (I can’t resist) book-like. They can be changed, and changed without consent or even knowledge of the purchaser/reader. Remember shrinkwrap licenses?  Those we licenses you agreed to by removing the shrinkwrap from a package, only the terms of the license were in the shrinkwrapped box which you couldn’t actually read until you got the shrinkwrap off…licenses for software or digital content are not (nor do they show any signs of becoming) simple transactions.

This and the idea of the content of a book without the physicality of a book give, for me, an unfortunate feeling of a disposable object to the narratives that were books. Of all of the things that were commonly kept that are now commonly thrown away–table ware, razors, food scraps (for everyone who doesn’t compost), hay, clothes, spouses–books were a permanence.  The book as object was a ballast (as John Updike characterized it) to a well navigated life.  Jessmyn West links to a Cory Doctorow asserting the place of books in people’s lives.   He makes an interesting assertion about how the image of book burning is one that comes to mind for very diverse groups of being when thinking about barbarism.  His point is that technologies like kindles represent a kind of book burning…do I agree completely, no, but to dismiss the permanence of an on hand library is a misplaced thought on a Friday afternoon…

Categories: Books · Essay on Bibliography · Essay on Technology · Information Studies