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The Authors Guild is taking a stand against the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library, Amazon’s new initiative allowing Kindle-owning Prime members to borrow free e-books. Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN) is “boldly breaching its contracts” with publishers, the Guild contends, in “an exercise of brute economic power.”
The Kindle Owners’ Lending Library contains over 5,000 titles, many of which are being included without publisher permission. In those cases, Amazon is simply buying a copy of the book at the wholesale price any time a Prime member borrows it (hence no “big six” publishers’ titles are in the program, since they set their own e-book prices). When the program first launched, many publishers did not even know that their books were included. The Association of Author Representatives and others have raised questions over how authors whose books are included will be paid.
The Authors Guild contends that the publishers who willingly included their books in the lending library (and were paid a hefty sum by Amazon to do so) are in the wrong: “While these publishers generally have the right to license e-book uses for many of their authors’ titles (just as most trade publishers do), our reading of the standard terms of these contracts is that they do not have the right to do so without the prior approval of the books’ authors.” The Guild writes,
Under most (perhaps all) publishing contracts, a license to Amazon’s Lending Library is outside the bounds of the publisher’s licensing authority. This isn’t a minor matter – in order to protect the author’s interests, all publishers should be asking permission before entering into such a bulk licensing agreement, and most would need to seek a contract amendment to do so.
In the instances where Amazon is simply buying a wholesale copy of the book each time someone borrows it, the Guild says this “may still not be in your best interests: Amazon, for its own reasons, has chosen to override your publisher’s marketing plan.” In any case, it recommends that authors who find their books in the library get in touch with their publishers to ask why their books are included.
The Authors Guild, which says it represents over 8,000 published authors, has taken several cases to court. Most notably, it filed a class action lawsuit against Google (NSDQ: GOOG) for its book scanning project. This past September, it sued a group of university libraries over their digitization of books.