Wednesday, 29 October 2003

"Legal Problems for Amazon?"

Possible Legal Problems for Amazon’s Book Search?
(Publishers Weekly, 28 October 2003)

Later revised version of the story:

Industry Debates Latest Initiative; Varied reactions; some experts say ‘search’ poses legal problems; will it sell books? (Publishers Weekly, 3 November 2003)

Book publisher Penguin’s CEO says “we have a duty to our authors” to ensure that users of the “search” service won’t be able to download entire books (which, as of now, they can). The “protections” against downloading in currently in place are laughable. More importantly, any safeguards against storing and forwarding displayed pages will be useless. Anything displayed on a screen can be captured to any desired storage medium. And anything that can be done in a browser can easily be automated to be done by a ‘bot.

Personally, I imagine that if gets away with this scheme, it will be a matter of months — at most — before ‘bots are built that allow a reader to enter the ISBN or other identifying info of the book, let the ‘bot go grab the page images from in the background, and return to find the e-book neatly re-assembled, whole, in the user’s download folder — without the user ever seeing an page or a suggestion that, God forbid, they buy the book or pay for the download.

“Meanwhile,” according to PW , “Publishing’s legal expert Martin Garbus said what he found disturbing here was the absence of author permissions. “It really makes you wonder whether they [Amazon] thought about this before they went ahead and did it,” he said.” Unfortunately, this Wired article and the history of’s Alexa division, before and after its acquisition by, suggests that knew full well what it was trying to do.

As PW says, “There remain … many key queries.”

[Addendum, 3 November 2003: There’s a discusssion of how ‘bots could be built to download sequential page images in this article and comments from the blog of science fiction writer Kathryn Cramer, who draws particular attention to the potential damage to rights to reprints and contributions to anthologies. There’s also a ‘bot-building thread on Usenet in the sci-fi newsgroup “rec.arts.sf.written”.]

Link | Posted by Edward on Wednesday, 29 October 2003, 15:38 ( 3:38 PM)
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