eBook restrictions vex users

She said EFF encourages readers to think twice before buying an eBook laden with DRM restrictions. “After all, don’t we want digital books to be as good, or better, than physical books at protecting you and your rights as a reader?” she asked.

Possible solutions

Though eReader devices are multiplying in number, and users must make complicated choices with long-term implications as a result of strict copy-protection measures, new advances in the eBook marketplace could help alleviate the problem.

For example, users of Apple’s iPad not only can read texts bought for some other eReading devices by downloading special applications, but the iPad itself is a web browser—meaning online textbooks and eBooks in an open format can be read on the device as well.

For Seton Hill University, the many functions of the iPad make it an ideal device for schools.

“The iPad is much more than an eReader,” said Kary L. Coleman, director of media relations and communications for Seton Hill. “With the iPad, students can create, produce, and share work instantly with faculty and fellow students. Now, they can use Evernote, a note-taking program that syncs notes, photos, and voice memos automatically with their computers. [We] strategically selected the iPad and do not foresee switching to a different device.”

Barnes & Noble has undertaken a bold initiative in letting Nook users lend books to other users of the device.

While the Nook allows users to lend books through a 14-day lending period, users cannot renew a book after the lending period ends, and publishers have the right to allow or not allow lending. Also, users can lend books to another Nook user one time only—and when a user lends a book, that text is then unavailable for the lender to read.

Still, by at least experimenting with letting users lend eBooks across multiple devices, many think the Nook is heading in the right direction.

“If Barnes & Noble does begin to allow sharing, I wouldn’t be surprised if it gives them a competitive advantage over less-open options,” said Andrew McDiarmid, a policy analyst at the Center for Democracy and Technology.

In another encouraging development, Google this summer plans to open an eBook store called Editions, which will begin selling electronic books that users can read on any internet-connected device—meaning they no longer will be restricted to a specific type of eReading platform or device.

Editions, which Google expects to launch by the end of July, will make available in-print works with the permission of publishers who own their copyrights.

“This eBook service will be device agnostic,” Google spokesman Gabriel Stricker told the news service AFP.

Books bought from Google and its partners will be available to any device that has a web browser, Google said. They also will be Kindle-compatible and will support the ePub open standard backed by the International Digital Publishing Forum, which many publishers now use.

eBooks that users buy from Google Editions would exist in a user’s “library,” a cloud-based collection of searchable texts that are hosted by Google, rather than as files downloaded to an eReader device or computer.

“Google’s timing here is impeccable,” said Christopher Dawson, technology director for the Athol-Royalston School District in northern Massachusetts and a blogger for ZDNet, in a recent blog post.

“The emergence of tablet devices and really outstanding smart phones makes cloud-based storage of whatever you might be reading very attractive. A giant selection ranging from the self-published to the mainstream to the esoteric … will make sense for consumers and verticals like education. And publishers, authors, and resellers would be foolish not to jump on the bandwagon, given Google’s generous profit-sharing models.”

For his part, Cushing Academy’s Corbett said he encourages readers to take a look at the business model that the eBook Library Service (EBL) from ebooks.com has come up with.

Meris Stansbury

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