I received the following email from Andy Woodworth (blockquotes omitted):

Starting at 9AM on Monday morning, the same single post will appear in multiple popular librarian blogs. The subject: an eBook User Bill of Rights. The purpose of this posting is to push for changes in how eBook content is handled. I think the post speaks for itself. I have included the text of the post below.

The eBook User’s Bill of Rights is a statement of the basic freedoms that should be granted to all eBook users.

The eBook User’s Bill of Rights

Every eBook user should have the following rights:the right to use eBooks under guidelines that favor access over proprietary limitationsthe right to access eBooks on any technological platform, including the hardware and software the user chooses, the right to annotate, quote passages, print, and share eBook content within the spirit of fair use and copyright, the right of the first-sale doctrine extended to digital content, allowing the eBook owner the right to retain, archive, share, and re-sell purchased eBooks. I believe in the free market of information and ideas.

I believe that authors, writers, and publishers can flourish when their works are readily available on the widest range of media. I believe that authors, writers, and publishers can thrive when readers are given the maximum amount of freedom to access, annotate, and share with other readers, helping this content find new audiences and markets. I believe that eBook purchasers should enjoy the rights of the first-sale doctrine because eBooks are part of the greater cultural cornerstone of literacy, education, and information access.

Digital Rights Management (DRM), like a tariff, acts as a mechanism to inhibit this free exchange of ideas, literature, and information. Likewise, the current licensing arrangements mean that readers never possess ultimate control over their own personal reading material. These are not acceptable conditions for eBooks.
I am a reader. As a customer, I am entitled to be treated with respect and not as a potential criminal. As a consumer, I am entitled to make my own decisions about the eBooks that I buy or borrow.

I am concerned about the future of access to literature and information in eBooks.  I ask readers, authors, publishers, retailers, librarians, software developers, and device manufacturers to support these eBook users’ rights.

These rights are yours.  Now it is your turn to take a stand.  To help spread the word, copy this entire post, add your own comments, remix it, and distribute it to others.

Blog it, Tweet it (#ebookrights), Facebook it, email it, and post it on a telephone pole.

To the extent possible under law, the person who associated CC0 with this work has waived all copyright and related or neighboring rights to this work


Sarah Houghton-Jan ( and I have been contacting other librarians to encourage them to post with us tomorrow morning. You will be able to find our posts at our blogs (hers at her website, mine in my signature). We certainly hope that in making these posts that this sparks the action that can be taken to secure the ownership rights for eBook readers as well as universal formats for eBooks. We believe that the future of eBooks is so bright and promising that we must secure these for the future generations in order to ensure the information access as well as a vibrant publishing market.

Thank you for your time this morning.

With respect,

Andy Woodworth

Librarian, Library Advocate, & Blogger
My award winning blog “Agnostic, Maybe”
Join the conversation with me on Twitter


  1. Not surprisingly, the text boils down to “I want ebooks to be just like print books… but better.” That’s fine as an ideal, but there are things about ebooks that are different than print media, and they need to be treated differently.

    For one thing, the “first sale doctrine” applies effectively to physical products… not so much to digital media. Unless digital media can be rendered difficult to replicate, first sale will never be practical… it will only result in hordes of copies being resold out of thin air, and money being exchanged for products which did not cost anything to get.

    Also: Sharing is also presented as an absolute right that I would take issue with. If the idea of sharing is to present new content to others… try “recommending.” Sharing, in this context, is simply a way to allow others to read books they didn’t pay for. I just don’t see sharing as something that will make or break ebooks. My personal opinion about sharing is that it should be limited to libraries only… but that’s me.

    Finally, the idea that security (in the form of DRM or licensing) treats customers as potential criminals is simply wrong. Security protects property owners from real criminals. Yes, others have to accept those security measures… but until they can remove the real criminals from society, it’s a fair price to pay to make sure content creators are not taken advantage of.

    And this is my final point: Content creators have rights, too. In the same way a consumer doesn’t want to be treated like a criminal (and using the same charged language), a creator doesn’t want to be treated like a slave, expected to do all the work for nothing.

  2. “…the right of the first-sale doctrine extended to digital content, allowing the eBook owner the right to retain, archive, share, and re-sell purchased eBooks”

    You forgot to ask for world peace.

    If wishes were horses
    Beggars would ride:
    If turnips were watches
    I would wear one by my side.
    And if ifs and ans were pots and pans,
    The tinker would never work!

  3. Mr Woodworth has an excellent idea in developing this Bill of Rights. His first attempt is a bit loose and fluffy but I think this is an excellent idea for a campaign against the abhorrent way readers are being treated when they ‘believe’ they are buying an eBook product.

    It is astonishingly naive of anyone who tries to persuade us that DRM has the slightest affect whatsoever on ‘criminals’. Removing DRM is a task any 7 year old can do before breakfast.

  4. A good premise, this buyer’s bill. My only issue is with buyer re-selling. Unlike paper books (which one can indeed find being sold by buyers at yard sales), eBooks can be replicated with various free software and mass-produced. (See many articles on book piracy)

    If buyers are allowed to re-sell purchased eBooks then I fear that the rather ‘slim’ income that the majority of eBook writers make would diminish to nothing and the fledgling golden goose would be slain before ever reaching maturity. As fun as the idea of lending and sharing ebooks may be, the writer loses more often than not. Just go take a gander at 4shared to see the inevitable outcome of treating eBooks like paperbacks; our tiny little company lost hundreds of sales last year thanks to the users of that website, who were “just sharing”. Authors like Grisham and King lost hundreds of times more sales than we did due to that one site, but their respective communities were hit as well by the loss of the respective sales and income tax revenue.

    As eBooks publishers we know that customers have to be happy with the product; in the past our customers have been happy sharing sample chapters or free stories with their friends and compatriots, which we gladly supply. We’ve never received a complaint regarding “why can’t I lend this book” or “Why won’t you let me sell it.” Instead, most folks simply direct interested parties to our website, to buy their own copy.

  5. @Steven. One of the primary differences between ebooks and paper books is that a copy is no longer a control point. The fact that we are still respecting copyright is by social convention and the laws interpreting “copies” equivalent to physical copies. In my view there is no logical reason that consumers have to lose their equivalent paper equivalent rights while content producers retain their own paper equivalent rights.

    So far we’ve had publishers asserting what they believe the new rights be as if it’s a fact. I see this “eBook User Bill of Rights” as an alternate view point.

  6. @Bob W: The practical fact that digital is not paper is a reason to make changes to rights on both sides… providing those changes still support the “social agreement” of fair buying and selling.

    If allowing customers to share freely, for example, means that customers make X copies and give them away to others, the social agreement of fair buying and selling breaks down. If copyright is changed, for example, so that the buyer has the right to somehow yank a book you’ve bought without warning, reason or compensation, the social agreement of fair buying and selling breaks down. The business collapses in either case.

    Changes may be popular, unpopular or debatable; but they must support fair treatment for ALL parties, or they are worthless. This bill largely ignores the fair rights of content creators; though it uses the words “within the spirit of fair use,” it provides no means of safeguarding fair use, taking our ability to protect our creations away from us.

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