Technically Speaking; E-Books: Going, Going, Go. (Information Technology)

By Dorman, David | American Libraries, January 2003 | Go to article overview
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Technically Speaking; E-Books: Going, Going, Go. (Information Technology)


Dorman, David, American Libraries


This past fall, I walked into a local Staples office supply store and picked up an RCA REB 1100 e-book for $45.

This was the device that Gemstar had hoped to sell millions of at $299 apiece. It now sits unused on my shelf next to a Hiebook, which the device's distributor loaned to me as a demonstration copy, but never bothered to ask for it back. Both these readers represent the second generation of e-book devices that have flopped as completely as the first-generation duds--the SoftBook and the Rocket E-book. Is the e-book device market finally dead? My advice is to keep your eye on the development of the Microsoft Tablet PC: In three to five years it, or something like it, will become the device that people will use for reading e-content on the go. The dedicated e-book reader will never be more than a boutique item.

In the meantime, e-book content is continuing to spread in the library marketplace. In October, Fictionwise, an e-book retailer (www.fictionwise.com), launched Libwise, a Web-based e-book lending service that can be customized and branded by the library. The cost begins at $30 per month, depending on the content and services provided. In November, OverDrive, (www.overdrive.com), a 15-year-old company specializing in Digital Rights Management software and the distribution of digital content, announced its new e-book service for libraries, Digital Library Reserves, which consists of a collection of 35,000 e-books and other digital content that can be checked out by library patrons using the Adobe Content Server.

Baker and Taylor came out with ED, "an integrated circulation and management solution for e-books," which supplies e-books to libraries and their patrons through Adobe's Content Server software. R. R. Bowker recently chose to offer e-books through a licensing agreement with Ebrary, making Ebrarian content and services available via www.booksinprint.com and www.globalbooksinprint.com.

E-books for children got a boost from a partnership of nonprofit, industry, academic, and governmental organizations, which is sponsoring a Web site devoted to e-books for kids from ages 3 to 13. Called the International Children's Digital Library and developed by the Internet Archives and the University of Maryland, the effort is funded primarily by a $4.4-million grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services. The site (www.icdlbooks.org) currently has around 200 books and is slated to have about 10,000 within five years. There are 13 ways to search the collection, including by color, shape, and feeling, but neither author nor title are among them.

Foul Times far Fair Use

There's a lot of law being made by Congress and interpreted by the federal courts these days that stomps on information-access rights that many of us had taken for granted. One such example is a Federal Circuit Court of Appeals ruling made this past August in the case of Harold L. Bowers v. Baystate Technologies. In a previous ruling, Baystate was found to have reverse-engineered Bowers's software in defiance of the license agreement prohibiting reverse engineering. In deciding "whether the Copyright Act preempts a state law contract claim that restrains copying," the appeals court noted that "courts respect freedom of contract and do not lightly set aside freely-entered agreements" and that "the Copyright Act does not preempt contractual constraints on copyrighted articles." Sadly, no mention was made of fair use or the public's right to information, so the ruling, as it stands; implies that license agreements always trump well-established limits to copyright. Period.

Foul, cried Mark A. Lemley, a law professor at the University of California/Berkeley. He submitted a brief to the appeals court in September on behalf of (among others) the American Library Association, the Association of Research Libraries, the American Association of Law Libraries, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and 33 professors of intellectual-property law asking for a rehearing on the grounds that the sweeping nature of the ruling against reverse engineering goes against well-established precedent and that if the Court's decision is upheld, it "would remake copyright law as we know it.

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