licensingIt is a debate so common that I don’t even need to pull up citations for this one. Do you own your ebooks? Or is what you are paying for merely a license to use the content in ways which the content seller pre-approves for you?

On the ‘it’s only a license’ side are the terms and conditions the ebook stores list in their fine print: only on X number of devices, only for the person listed on the account, only when first decrypted through an Adobe server or an Amazon download script and so on.

And on the ‘you bought it’ side? Well, I have always argued that price should be an indicator. If it’s a rental, it should have a rental-level price, but if I clicked a button which said ‘buy now’ (not ‘rent now’) and paid anything approaching a full, retail sticker price, it should be mine. And I feel no guilt whatsoever about decrypting these purchases and loading them into Calibre to do with as I please.

An intriguing little snippet was posted at Boing Boing yesterday which adds more weight to the ‘buy’ argument: author Cory Doctorow posted a screenshot of the screen which followed his book purchase, and it began with ‘now that you own the Kindle book…’

Terminology matters. I think that, now that the market is maturing, it is high time the publishing industry got their acts together on this. If you charge people full retail price and then bury the ‘licensing’ terms in 15 screens worth of fine print that they only see once, when they sign up, that’s being deceptive. And what you’ll get is customers like me being disgruntled at giving up the rights we had with paper for a product which costs the same but is often riddled with errors and is severely limited in how it can be enjoyed.

So, I urge you to to start playing fair with people. If it truly is a sale and we are meant to own these books, do away with the DRM and the rights restrictions, and proofread the darned things to make sure they are of ownership quality. If you are set on persisting with the mindset that it’s only a rental, then lower the price accordingly to rental levels the way the home video market did, and change the text on your vendor sites accordingly so you aren’t snookering people into thinking they are getting something they’re not. In short: if you are going to charge people money, play fair for it.