The eBook User’s Bill of Rights

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 limitations
  • the 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.

Edit: If you are an author reading this, I suggest you read one of my follow-up posts to this, “How The eBook Reader’s Bill of Rights Benefits Authors“.

Edit: I’ve turned off comments on this post since I’m getting personal attacks on my character rather than the ideas that are presented. These overwrought hyperbolic comments are full of incorrect information, ignorance of what copyright and fair use actually entail as a legal terms, and offered a completely inaccurate portrayal of what was written.

You are entitled to your own opinion on the matter. You are not entitled to your own set of facts.

And for the person who asked how I would feel about having this blog post plastered all over the internet, I should point out that this blog post carries a CC0 or Public Domain notice. It’s meant to be shared without attribution as a public domain document. My blog is otherwise is licensed under CreativeCommons-A-NC-ND, meaning you can also post it wherever you want so long as you provide attribution (A), it is not for commercial gain(NC), and there are no derivatives created(ND).

So, to answer your question, go on ahead.

56 thoughts on “The eBook User’s Bill of Rights

  1. I think this has the seed of a good idea, Andy. A really well written and reasonable Bill of Rights would be a very useful tool for campaigns all across the US and Europe to stop the appalling way copyright is being used and abused against the consumer.
    Here’s a quick crack at my version…

    The Purchaser of an eBook for personal use should have these Rights:

    1. The Right, when purchasing an eBook, to receive an eBook file that is not locked, or limited in it’s use, in any way; not removable or alterable in any way by the seller or publisher and which is freely available to be backed up by the purchaser on his/her choice of media.

    1. The Right to make copies of the purchased eBook file for his/her own use and to convert that file to any other format for that purpose, including for reading on other devices and platforms.

    3. The Right to annotate, quote passages, print, and share eBook content within the spirit of Fair Personal Use.

    4. The Right to lend the purchased eBook file within his/her friends or family and within the spirit of Fair Personal Use.

    5. The Right to sell the purchased eBook file to any third party of his/her choice on condition that the original file is erased post sale.

    • Thank you Howard for your comments. When copyright stops being a shield and starts being a club to be used on individuals, that’s when the law needs to be re-examined.

      I do really like your take on it. I think it brings the terms into passages that people can relate to in their own lives which is a key to getting people to think about it and (hopefully) act on it.

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  3. Thanks for your comments Andy. Keep working on it ok ? As I said it can become a useful tool for all kinds of people fighting this battle.
    Yes, it must relate to ordinary people’s experience. It must also avoid seeking the unrealistic or impracticable. It mustn’t hand a club to the opposition. Simple, sensible, real.
    I look forward to the next iteration !


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    • It’s pretty wild to see posts translated into other languages, I will admit. And I’ll take all the help I can get!

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    • Not that I’m aware of. Being a Public Domain document, it’s pretty out there. The only change I’ve made is in the name to eBook Reader’s Bill of Rights.

      Other than that, it’s currently the same.

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  11. Andy,

    I came upon your Ebook Users Bill of Rights via Twitter and I have to say that as a self-publishing author I’m impressed by your list! I’ve talked about this issue on my blog and website and it’s the main reason I release my ebooks without DRM. I’m not worried about piracy as I’m more concerned about my readers being able to read and share my works.

    Hopefully, in the future, the ereader market will become more fluid and readers will be able to buy and read ebooks from different stores and different devices.

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  15. The difficulty with your bill of rights is that it’s not the publisher’s who are applying DRM to their content, it’s the vendors and device makers. There are many hands involved here. To say that we can make one utopian file format that can be portable to all devices is a wonderful thought but how do we get device makers and vendors to line up their technology? The content is flexible and it always has been. It’s the devices that cause the rigidity.

  16. Drew – I am afraid you are under an inaccurate impression. It is actually the publishers alone who are applying and insisting on using DRM. Amazon and other retailers only pass on the files. You can buy DRM free eBooks through your Kindle or your Nook or online through your computer.
    Most Indie publishers are now offering DRM free eBooks and many self publishing authors are offering DRM free eBooks through Amazon.

    • I work for a fairly large publisher and manage the ebook distribution program. I can tell you with certainty the files I hand off are DRM free.

  17. Drew – the reason is that the actual DRM ‘coding’ is probably applied during the processing program applied by Amazon. The instruction and option to DRM is driven wholly by the Publisher who has the option of doing so or not doing so.

    • Again not entirely true. If you want to get into specifics, the rendering engine that the various publishers are using requires different formats. Amazon still uses Mobi/AZW and most of the other vendors us ePub, or some proprietary format. Bottom line is that it would be a HUGE cost savings to the publishers if the vendors could agree on a single format to use instead of having to create a file that suits each vendor (apple’s requirements for an ePub are different than B&N’s). Then, and only then will you be able to take the book that you bought on Amazon, and read it on your Nook without the end user having to jump through conversion hoops on their own.

      The production of an ebook from start to finish is far more complex and costly than pushing the convert to eBook button. We want you to buy our books, and we want you to have access to them on as many readers as possible, but the delivery vehicle is the vendor’s and I have no control over why a Kindle can’t read an ePub I bought on iBooks.

  18. So let’s for a moment assume that publishers and distributors stop using DRM. You still can’t read your Amazon books on a Nook or iPad unless you’re savvy enough to use a conversion tool, and that’s just scratching the surface of the file compatibility issues that arise when you get into educational texts that need special fonts and styles.

    I agree that DRM needs to be reevaluated, but there’s a far greater issue that needs to be addressed about uniformity of file types.

    I’d love to take this offline and discuss.

  19. Drew I agree about the compatibility issues fully. But it is very much in parallel with DRM as a problem.

    Come on over to where there is an ongoing and vigorous debate about all of these issues on a daily basis, with writers, publishers and ordinary business folk like me. I think we shouldn’t hijack Andy’s great article any further 🙂

    Best of luck.


  20. And you feel it’s fair for one person to take a book, publish it on a third party sharing website so hundreds of thousands of people can download it for free?

    I don’t have a problem with someone giving my book to one person to read. It expands my readership, but I do have a problem with someone taking my book and making it available for thousands to read without paying for it.


      • I highly suggest you take into account that authors who are primarily published in print and are already highly successful (like Neil Gaiman) will not be affected adversely but those who are primarily published in ebook and work with small, indie presses (such as myself) ARE adversely affected.

        Piracy hurts the little guys. No, we don’t own yachts. No, piracy has not helped me one iota in terms of either sales or “getting the word out there.”

        It’s a pretty low and selfish thing to steal from authors’ hard earned works and claim it’s your “right”. Not to mention possessing of a rather overweening sense of entitlement.

        • How are you adversely affected? Please, explain. Some examples and evidence would help.

          How is the eBook Reader’s Bill of Rights advocating piracy? People are very casually tossing around that term but cannot point to the text and show me where the call to piracy exists. (I’ll give you a hint: it’s not there.)

          All I see is hysterics and people reading in their own meaning into words that aren’t even there.

  21. The reader, as far as I can tell, has not been or is being harmed in any way or cheated, so why do you need a eBook user’s bill of rights? They have a choice of buying a book or not. After all WRITTING IS A BUSINESS.
    I’m a new author with 2 books to my credit. It takes months or even years for an author to write a book. It takes several more months, even years to sell the book to a publisher and get it published in what ever format it gets published in. Most authors do not get a dime until the publisher sends them a royality check. So why are you trying to deny an author compensation for his work. I write first to tell a story, but I also write to bring in additional money to help make ends meet. I’m not a rich person or even upper middleclass. My wife and I own 2 business and a seasonal business. We are both handicapped. Every penney we get in is already spent (for bills and groceries), just like most of us. I know that some of my author friends who have been pirated, not nice. Our biggest weapon against this type of thieft is the copyright laws. The publishers and distributers use this DRM and other tools to prevent thieft. So now you think that everyone will play nice and not steal money from the authors and publishers by giving away hundreds or thousands of copies of my or any other authors books. Grow up. Why pay for it if you can get it for free.

    Let me ask you this. Let’s say you own a gas station and I hate the high gas prices. I ask you to let me fill my gas tank up for free every other day. I own a taxsi service and use a lot of gas. Each tank I’d get for free would take about $50 out of your pocket. You’d still have to pay your supplier for the free gas I got. The electricity to pump the gas, and the wages of the clerk. Even though you get my business, you still lose money. Now let’s say you have a 100 customers who got free gas like i’m doing. Now it’s $5,000 a tank fort these 100 customers. That translates to about 10 to 15 grand a week in rfree gas. Yes youwould be a very popular and busy gas station, untill you went bankrupt. The samething applies to the authors & publishers, especially the publishers. My first book first came out as an E Book. I did a radio interview. Without telling me the radio host posted a free download of my book on their radio site. I made 2 calls. First to my publisher to tell them what was going on and the second was to the radio station/ DJ and told them to remove my book from their site. My publisher also contacted them and threatened them with a lawsuit. My book ws removed. We figured wa had lost about 250 sells. That translates t oabout $1,200. That DJ took just over $400 out of my pocket. If I stole $400 from you, would you just let it go and not say or do anything about it. I don’t think so. But you think it is OK for you to take money from me.
    Let me change directions for a moment. I was a pro photographer for over 30 yrs. I’ve had several customers return to my studio and ask for a photo release so they could legally copy of photos I took at their weddings. I would hand them a price list and told them I could have a professional copy of the photo in about a week. They told me they could get a copy made for about 50 cents and have it back in an hour. My customer was doing the same thing you are wanting to do with my book. Deny me a fair return on my work. I offered a basic wedding package for $400. The customer got up to 7 rolls(36 exposures each roll) printed as custom proofs, and placed in a nice album. Trust me, this was a great deal. It takes a professional photographer about a 100 hours to do a wedding, from the time a customer signs a contract until they recieve their final order. That translates into $4.00 an hour. So the photographer needs to sell extra prints to help make it worth his time. My reprint prices were reasonable, a standard custom printed 8X10 cost just $10. A 4X5 would only cost $2.50. I never signed a release for 2 reasons. The 50 cent copies were never even close in quality and I didn’t want poor copies of my work floating around. Those substandard copies could cost me future customers and damage my reputation as a photographer.
    I am a professional writer / author. I deserve to be paid for my work. One day I hope to be able to support my family with my writing. I can’t do that if you are stealing my work. The biggest problem is that large amounts of people (thousands of them) can steal steal my work. With print books, you don’t have that problem. A hard copy book can only be passed around so much.
    Your so called eBook bill of right IMHO would never work. You’re putting to much faith in people doing the “right” thing. That is how this pirate thing got started in the first place. To me this looks like another attempt to justify stealing and help legalize it.
    Oh and FYI back when books were starting to be printed with a printing press. they were very expensive and not that many people could read or write.
    This is my opinion and I do not like your eBook Bill of Rights. I am planning to post this reply on several of the sites I belong to, hoping to expose this for what it really is.

    • If you would be so kind as to point out exactly where I am supporting piracy or insisting on authors not being compensated, I would be happy to respond to you. Otherwise, I think you’re seeing things that aren’t written or worse projecting meaning into words as they appear. I think you are jumping to conclusions.

      I object to your math regarding the loss of sale from the radio interview/eBook incident. You are operating on the presumption that all 250 people who downloaded the book would have purchased it at $4.80. You can’t prove that any or all of those 250 would have purchased it at the cover price. I’ll concede that I can’t prove that none of those people would have purchased the book; any sale would net you a profit. There could be sales, but my guess is that it would not be near your estimation of $1,200.

      If I might make a personal inquiry, do you borrow or lend physical books to friends or family? Do you borrow or lend physical books to your wife? Because under the logic that you have presented, you are stealing money from those authors. In handing over that copy (yes, even to your wife), by your reasoning you have just prevented that author from making a sale to your wife. Do you each own a copy of every book that you both read? In the future, will you refuse to borrow or lend books to family, friends, or your spouse because it denies a sale to an author?

      I’m sorry you feel this way. I hope you read my followup as to how authors would benefit from this ( And I implore you to watch the entire Neil Gaiman Open Rights clip.

  22. “the right to annotate, quote passages, print, and share eBook content within the spirit of fair use and copyright”

    This is a declaration of piracy. Piracy is illegal and so is your supposed bill of rights. Selling an author’s work without paying royalties to the author or the publisher is theft and not “the spirit of fair use”.

    • This presumption is so entirely wrong I’m not certain where to begin.

      The passage you quote actually says with words “within the spirit of fair use and copyright”. As these as legally defined statutes which grant people certain limited rights to annotate, quote passages, print, and share copyrighted material, I’m at a complete loss for how this would be piracy.

      Are you saying that readers should not be permitted to quote any passage from your book? Are you saying that I should be prevented from quoting a passage from an eBook that I’m reading and email it to a friend? Are you saying that I should be prevented from adding my own annotations to an eBook that I am reading? And that I shouldn’t be allowed to share those annotations with another?

      In the middle of your two sentence rant, you shift gears and start talking about selling author’s works without compensation. Where is that coming from? Where is that stated in the passage? Where is this denial of compensation statement? It cannot be made without adding several logical leaps, none of which are present.

  23. Andy I suggest you have attracted a bunch of the familiar lunatic fringe here and there’s no point in fighting them. They don’t bother listening and will twist and lie about anything to try to drown you out.

    One or two of these posts is actually a direct copy of posts that have been posted to Teleread when they targeted a similar discussion a few weeks back and this is why the content is utterly irrelevant to the actual Bill of Rights.

    The Bill of Rights is a perfectly fair and necessary document that supports fair use and what these people are trying to do is screw the reading public in a dishonest and profiteering manner.

    You will probably find that the very success of your campaign will attract these trolls more and more.

    • The most disturbing part of your reply is the word “familiar”. But thanks for the troll update, I’ll keep that in mind when I see their replies.

      I think what they are looking for is the equivalent of running a lemonade stand in your living room. You want people to buy the lemonade, but not many people are going to know that they have to actually go into the house to buy it or that you have to drink it on site under their terms. Attempts to take the lemonade out of the house could lead to sharing with other people and that’s stealing, even if those other people like lemonade as well. Then they’ll wonder why their lemonade stand is failing.

      Thanks again, Howard.

    • Howard, it’s not trolling to point out the realities of working with small indie presses and their authors. What IS trolling is the suggestion that by pointing out the truth that we are somehow “lunatics”. I beg to differ.

  24. While I get what you are trying to do and agree with most of it, I still have issues with the shareing and re-selling. I have read your other post on how this benefits the authors and get that sharing can help, but with digital copies there is a fine line between sharing and stealing.
    Here’s a hypothetical for you, someone out there reads a book they absolutely love. They want to share it with everyone. So they do… they host it on a file sharing site and tell everyone on their blog how to download it. They don’t do this maliciously or with the intent to hurt the author just with the intent to share the book they love.
    Now lets say that this is the only book the author has written, if all his/her readers can get this book by going to this blog why purchase it at all? He/She has no other works so word of mouth will be something along the lines of “I got this great book by such and such, go here and get it free.” Sure it’s a great endorsement, but not really helping the author since all the readers will be getting it from this place free.
    Here’s my issue with re-selling you keep a copy on your computer when you sell it. What’s to stop you from selling it over and over. Nothing. If you want these rights there has to be a way to make it so the file has a limited life so that it can’t be used over and over again.

    I also posted about this on my blog here if you are interested-

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