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Digital Books and Your Rights: A Checklist for Readers

What questions should consumers ask before buying a digital book or reader? The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has published Digital Books and Your Rights, a checklist for readers considering buying into the digital book marketplace.

Over the last few months, the universe of digital books has expanded dramatically, with products like Amazon's Kindle, Google Books, Internet Archive's Text Archive, Barnes and Noble's Nook, and Apple's upcoming iPad poised to revolutionize reading. But while this digital books revolution could make books more accessible than ever before, there are lingering questions about the future of reader privacy, consumers' rights, and potential censorship.

EFF's checklist outlines eight categories of questions readers should ask as they evaluate new digital book products and services, including:

  • Does the service protect your privacy by limiting tracking of you and your reading?
  • When you pay for a book, do you own the book, or do you just rent or license it?
  • Is the service censorship resistant?

"As these new services roll out, we need to know if they will respect or hamper the traditional rights and expectations of readers. Physical books have many natural protections for readers, and other protections have been created over time by libraries and bookstores," said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Corynne McSherry. "These questions will help book lovers decide what they want their digital book future to look like and then vote with their feet to get to that future."

As other ebook readers and reader services develop, a federal judge is considering final approval of a settlement that would pave the way for a huge expansion of Google Books, giving Google the green light to scan and digitize millions of books and allow users to search for and read those books online. Unfortunately, Google's system monitors what books users search for, how much of the books they read, and how long they spend on various pages, and Google refuses to require a warrant before providing that information to the government. EFF Legal Director Cindy Cohn will appear before the court at a hearing in New York on February 18, representing a coalition of authors including Michael Chabon, Jonathan Lethem, and many others concerned about reader privacy.

"Our coalition is asking the court to ensure that Google's huge new digital library/bookstore maintains the strong protections for reader privacy that traditional libraries and bookstores have fought for and largely won," said Cohn.

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