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Amazon Launches E-Book Lending for Libraries

An Amazon Kindle e-Reader
An Amazon Kindle e-Reader

This is the VOA Special English Technology Report. launched its Kindle library-lending service in the United States last week. Millions of users of the Kindle reader and app can now borrow Kindle books from their local public library.

The company is working with OverDrive, a leading supplier of e-books and other digital content to libraries. The service will be available through the websites of more than eleven thousand local libraries across the country.

Users of other devices including the Barnes and Noble Nook and Sony Reader have already been able to borrow library books. Experts say Amazon's entry is likely to reopen a debate between publishers and libraries over e-book lending.

Bill Rosenblatt is president of Giant Steps Media Technology Strategies, a consulting company.

BILL ROSENBLATT: “Publishers and libraries are enemies that occur in nature like snakes and mongese. Libraries would like to be able to make books available to everyone, all the time, with no limitations. And publishers, of course, would like to sell more books to the public.”

Mr. Rosenblatt says the debate in the United States centers on what is known as the law of first sale.

BILL ROSENBLATT: “Once you buy any kind of media product such as a book or a CD or a DVD or anything like that, you can do whatever you want with it. You can read it, you can give it away, you can lend it, you can resell it, you can burn it, you can use it as a Frisbee -- whatever you want. This law is referred to as 'first sale.'"

This law is what permits libraries to lend books over and over again without having to pay publishers each time. But Bill Rosenblatt points out that it does not include digital products. Technology known as digital rights management can make e-books unreadable once they have reached a certain time or user limit.

BILL ROSENBLATT: “Several months ago, one of the major publishers, Harper Collins, which is a division of News Corp, announced that they were only going to allow e-books to be lent out twenty-six times, and then they would have to be purchased by the libraries again. Apart from HarperCollins, publishers are allowing libraries to purchase e-books for lending in perpetuity, meaning as many times as anyone wants to borrow them.”

HarperCollins says it took the action to protect the growing e-book industry and its own book sales. But Bill Rosenblatt says critics did not see it that way.

BILL ROSENBLATT: “Because a digital book lasts forever, as long as it’s stored somewhere in digital form, that it should be lendable forever, and that this business of restricting e-book lending to twenty-six times is sort of an unfair, artificial limitation that shouldn’t apply because it’s a digital product.”

He says the debate over e-book lending will likely end up in court.

And that's the VOA Special English Technology Report, written by June Simms. I'm Steve Ember.