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October 23rd 2009 10:16 pm

Lending ebooks and DRM - what's fair?

Since Barnes & Noble officially announced the nook, there's been much buzz over one of the features it has over Amazon's Kindle: The ability to lend an ebook to a friend. The way lending works is that it's limited to a 2 week period, during which you cannot access that ebook on your own device. You're only allowed to lend a particular ebook to an individual friend once (I assume you can lend the book out to multiple people though - just not at once).

So far, the response to this feature from the gdgt community, as well as the rest of the tech world, has been pretty lackluster. If it were up to you, how would you change the nook's lending policy? What would be the most ideal situation for you, assuming you think DRM'd ebooks are a necessary evil?

My ideas:
* Allow a book to be loaned for up to 3 weeks at a time.
* Increase the amount of time the a particular friend can "borrow it" - maybe 2 times? Maybe 3?
* While your book is loaned out to another friend, you should still be able to access it. This is one of the benefits of digital distribution, why not take advantage of it?

What are your ideas?

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4 replies

I agree with you, up to 3 weeks, more then one loan to a person but not unlimited, but i do kind of agree with their once you loan it you can't read it and only because you can't do that with pyshical books, but at the same time it is digital. I think if it were up to the Nook or Kindle their would be no limitations like they have in place but i think the big problem is the publishers who are just as bad as the music industry.

I would like to see books that are cheaper then the paperback version since their is no physical cost,
Ability to keep books in a cloud format to read on multiple devices like phone, computer, ereader
Ability to share a file between household readers unlimitedly
and thats all i can think of right now.
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I don't know about you, but when I lend out a book or movie or video game or cd, I don't expect to get it back until the user is done with it.... There is no reason why digital content should be any different... If they want to disable it for you while you lend it out, I guess thats fine so you have incentive to get it back like with a physical product.... And if you don't want it back, then it is a gift! Just like with a real product...

I guess I don't fit Dave's requirements because I don't believe DRM is a necessary evil. I don't believe it is necessary for any product.... The people that buy buy and the people that don't don't... DRM changes nothing but occasionally it screws the people that buy too.....
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I just find it odd that they are leaving lending up to the publishers. I think it should be all B&N's decision. If I go into a store and buy a paperback I can lend it to one person at a time for however long it takes for them to be done with it. I think that the same should apply for an e-book. I just dont see how I can pass the paperback along to anyone who wants to read it but not an e-book version; if I bought it I should be able to share it with one person at a time. Grr.
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I don't find the blocking of lent material outrageous since it is supposed to be given out to someone else. Of course we can argue that the material is digital and we can have multiple copies of if, but then I can always photocopy a whole book and give it to a friend or even copy a VHS tape (this link is for young people: en.wikipedia.org­/wiki­/VHS) both of which are illegal.

On the other hand there is one scenario where it makes sense to have a time limit on the lending duration and it is as follows: If Bob lends Alice a book they both have to be online to sync with a server that allows DRMed content to work on the other device. If Alice doesn't give Bob back his book he might not be able to access it. However a timed lending period will ensure that Bob will get his book back even if Alice doesn't bother to give it back. Convenient technology.

So far so good! Now lets talk ugly. There really is no reason that content be given to people only a fixed number of times. This probably infringes on the rights of the materials' users since it is not a violation of copyrights to passover copyrighted material in its original form and yet restricts fair use in a probably illegal manner. I also think it is very inconvenient, and one of the evils of having someone else who makes money out of what you buy, control how you use what you paid for. The way this thing works only serves as an advertisement to the copyright holders. If this is the case then the copy owners (Bob in this case) should be compensated for advertising (to Alice) the same way TV broadcasters are compensated for airing ads. Bob should also be compensated more for prime time lending which can be vacation time for stories and school period for academic books. I know this idea seems pretty out there (in the cold getting lonely getting old) but then no one controls how many times I lend my paper books to my friends so why start accepting it now. I will accept to distort my rights to your (publishers) views if you agree to distort your rights to mine. This will weed out bad laws since it balances what others find acceptable to enforce onto you if they have to weigh in that you have equal right/ability to enforce bad laws onto them. That is my only gripe.

Other than that the nook is probably as much a game changer as the iPod was. All ebook readers out there are the same device and may differ only based on services and content. The nook is the only device that does make people consider buying the device for its feature set and ease of use instead of its invested publisher base like the Kindle. Unlike the rest of the competition, both content navigation and content reading are perfect. Since it is running Android, I would expect that the usability of the device will only get better over time as customer feedback starts flowing in.
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