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Summary:

An incident in which an e-book lending site was shut down by a horde of angry authors with takedown notices — most of whom misunderstood the site’s purpose — is another example of how the publishing industry is fighting the same battles as the music industry.

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We’ve written before about how complicated the process of lending an e-book is, and how much of this is a result of conflicting DRM locks and platforms, as well as a reluctance on the part of publishers to allow their books to be loaned. But authors can also be a roadblock when it comes to lending, and we’ve just had a classic example of how that can happen with the brouhaha over LendInk, a service that allowed readers to connect with others in order to share e-books. The site has effectively been put out of business by a virtual lynch mob of authors claiming it breached their rights, even though what it was doing was perfectly legal.

Much of the negative response to LendInk came about because of a series of misunderstandings about how the service worked, and also a lack of knowledge about how Amazon handles lending for Kindle books. But the incident also says a lot about how authors view lending of e-books to begin with — many seem to see every book loaned as a potential sale that has been lost, just as the music industry used to look down on file-sharing of music as theft. But they are just as wrong.

Fear of piracy mixed with misunderstanding

It’s not clear how or why LendInk first attracted the recent fuss, since the service — which has been run by a single individual, founder owner Dale Porter — has been around for close to two years. At some point, an author noticed that their book was listed as being available for lending on the site, and sounded the alarm on Twitter, as well as discussion forums devoted to Kindle-published authors, saying the site was pirating their content. This eventually turned into a hue and cry by dozens of authors, all of whom called on their colleagues to send LendInk copyright-takedown notices under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

Those notices ultimately had the desired effect, and the company’s website was taken offline by its web-hosting provider. The situation was complicated by the fact that the service had more or less been running on auto-pilot for about 18 months because Porter — a disabled army veteran — had been dealing with health issues. As a result, copyright notices and angry emails from authors didn’t get an immediate reply, and that likely caused the anger to escalate.

In most cases, the authors who got the most upset about LendInk completely misunderstood the purpose of the website. To them, it looked as though the service was hosting copies of their books and allowing anyone to borrow them, something that would clearly be a breach of their rights as copyright holders — like an e-book version of MegaUpload.

Some authors are against sharing on principle

In fact, however, all LendInk did was allow readers who already owned e-books to connect with other readers who wanted to borrow them. As Porter explained in a statement posted to a reader forum, only books that had already been approved for lending by Amazon could be shared through the service, in the same way they can with services such as Lendle (whose CEO has posted a response to the LendInk incident).

Some authors didn’t even seem to be aware that their books could be loaned under the terms of their agreement with Amazon to publish on the Kindle, and a few later apologized for their attacks on LendInk — but others seemed unrepentant about their criticism, and argued that built-in approval for lending of e-books between complete strangers was somehow wrong. At least one author argued that sharing of books was fine between two friends, but not between two people who had been connected by a website or service like LendInk.

Aside from the misunderstandings about the service, the dissatisfaction felt by some authors about the whole idea of e-book lending seems to be driven by the same impulse that keeps publishers from making sharing easier: namely, the idea that every book that gets shared is a book that isn’t bought, despite the fact that plenty of evidence shows that sharing — and even outright piracy — in many cases helps increase the demand for content. As musician Neil Young put it recently: “Piracy is the new radio — it’s how music gets around.”

The sooner authors and publishers get used to that idea, the better off they will be. And taking down an innocent web service, whose only purpose was to try and increase the potential market for their books, is just an attempt to postpone the inevitable.

Post and thumbnail images courtesy of Flickr users Jeremy Mates and Mike Licht

  1. Reblogged this on Adventures In American Writing and commented:
    haven’t read it yet, am now, but here you go society of writers.

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  2. Dale Porter was not the founder, he bought it around end of May, 2011 and changed the registration to himself on June 2nd, 2011 (https://flippa.com/142328-ebooks-loan-and-borrow-kindle-and-nook-ebooks-no-reserve)
    The site had been on auto-pilot for about 12months, his last blog post was July 15th, 2011.

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    1. Thanks for that, Kai. I will clarify.

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  3. The customer pays a little more, but that’s what you want anyway.

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  4. Oh woops, Dale also admits to purchasing the site:

    How did you make money from the site?

    Dale: “When I purchased the site, I was an Amazon Affiliate and the hopes … … … (http://www.digitalmediamachine.com/2012/08/what-happened-to-lendink-owner-explains.html)

    I think its a shame what happened though, and hope he’s able to get the site back up.

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  5. Interesting article. I can see the author’s point of view and at first might have sided with those disgruntled authors. When I thought about it though, it is no different than purchasing a paper copy of a book and loaning it to someone. It is the same principle, and something that I feel is beneficial. It ultimately gets the author’s name a wider circulation, which is what they should want.

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  6. I’m sorry, but books and music are not the same. When you hear a song, if you like it, you want to hear it again. When you read a book, you don’t read it again every day, or every week. I loved “Crime and Punishment,” but I haven’t read it in 20 years.

    The authors have a point, and your piece makes it sound as if they are just a bunch of know-nothings. They’re not thrilled about giving away free books. Arguing that sharing is something that friends should do, but not strangers, is completely sound. Furthermore, I’m sure the authors don’t like the sharing feature of Amazon to begin with. It’s something they have to put up with in exchange for the distribution, not something they have to like.

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    1. Karen Kazaryan Sunday, August 12, 2012

      I’m sorry but that’s a bullshit. First of all Crime and Punishment are in public domain anyway, and it’s don’t think that there is a lot of people who can claim that this book are they favorite.

      But readers do reread they favorite books, and quite often, at least once a year.

      Also you know, there is place where you can get all sorts of books for free. It’s called library. How is kindle lending is different?

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    2. No, KK, what Mr. Bhatia wrote is not bullshit. You can replace Dostoyevsky with a contemporary, living author’s work and the point he makes is still true — most books are read once. Sure a lot get re-read, but that’s not the point.

      Furthermore, there is indeed a palpable lack of empathy for authors — not just in this article — regarding the piracy issue. Most authors are pretty much on their own trying to figure out what is going on while the market place for written work is in such a turbulent transition period. That same lack of empathy was and remains in place for the creators of recorded music — ire was levied at the “industry” but little concern is ever given to artist. The message from digital consumers is often couched in oblique terms such as “get with it” and “it” is frequently a wide cover for “I get the latest whatever I want without paying for it,” and, “if I own it I can do whatever I want with it.” That level of arrogant reasoning is enough to make any legitimate copyright holder nervous.

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      1. Quite a few of the books I own were borrowed first, then later purchased. The reasons have varied: I wanted the convenience of having it at hand for re-reading or for reference; it was something I wanted to be able to highlight and/or make notes in; I thought of a friend or family member who would likewise enjoy the item and purchased a copy to as a gift. (Sometimes this has generated two sales, one for the other and one for myself as well. ) In any case, many books in my personal library would probably not be there had I not been able to explore them without first. Too many times, I have bought a book after browsing it in the store, only to have it disappoint on closer reading. This is one person’s experience, but I suspect I’m not alone.

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    3. “Arguing that sharing is something that friends should do, but not strangers, is completely sound.”

      Please explain your reasoning behind this statement.

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      1. I agree with Mr. Bhatia. When strangers trade “loans” they are not recommending a book they have loved to a friend in order to share an emotion. They are bartering, which ought to be a taxable transaction. They are supplying a (legal) copy of an e-book to someone who knows about it and wants it and would possibly have purchased it.

        What some commentators miss is the business behind these lending sites. EBookFling for instance, openly suggests that subscribers should download free Amazon reads for the explicit purpose of later being able to trade that free read for something they really and truly want to read via a lending site.

        Proof, snagged from an EBookFling newsletter “Even if it’s not your cup of tea, you can add it to your eBookFling library and fling it to all those fools who missed out on today’s opportunity. We told you we love you.”

        That is TRADE. Moreover, in many cases, the original copy being “loaned” was not purchased, either.

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    4. As an author I’m with you on that one. I don’t mind someone who says to their friend I love this book here, read it, because it is likely that the person if they like it too will buy my books. Basicly ‘giving’ books away to strangers no matter if you call it ‘lending’ is something to be upset about. Authors spend months, sometimes years writing a book and only get a few dollars from every sale so of course we don’t want to lose those few rewards we get. And Dev is right, we are not thrilled with the lending feature on Amazon but in order to distribute our books there we have to sign up for it. This doesn’t mean we want everyone to share our books too.

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  7. so, As Mario Vargas Llosa stated about couple of years ago that he severely opposes Bill Gate’s intention to finish the use of paper which is going to hurt the Writers and the Authors very badly, Llosa was 100% right

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    1. As an author about to enter the ebook publishing world I am thrilled at the possibility this offers. I no longer have to accept the limitations that publishers impose and celebrate and embrace the freedom that the digital age presents.

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  8. Why are we still going along with this charade? Something that can be instantly and perfectly copied cannot, by definition, be “loaned”, any more than it can be “bought” or “sold”. I think we need to break out of this linguistic prison by unilaterally using more appropriate terminology, such as “counterfeit” and “license”. This would be a very first step in ending the mind control exercised by big content.

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  9. The authors are missing the big picture. My girl friend and I exchanged hard back books. I found new authors I would not have read or purchase as future ebooks otherwise. Reading borrowed ebooks has expanded my list of authors.

    For those authors who choose not to have their books as ebooks – shame on you. There are people who have allergies to dust and can not have hard back copies. I am one. I love to read and thanks to ebooks; I can continue. I miss some of my favorite authors because they choose not to ebook.

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    1. Shame on an author who does not provide an e-book? So you have never ever read a hard copy of a book until Blessed Amazon came along and gave you the Miracle of the Kindle? This is a highly suspect post.

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  10. We wouldn’t want strangers to borrow books from each other. That would be just wrong. I remember when authors had those famous riots against libraries. Oh, wait. That never happened.

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