later this year, we will be introducing lending for Kindle, a new feature that lets you loan your Kindle books to other Kindle device or Kindle app users. Each book can be lent once for a loan period of 14-days and the lender cannot read the book during the loan period. Additionally, not all e-books will be lendable – this is solely up to the publisher or rights holder, who determines which titles are enabled for lending.
PCWorld suggests this development may permit Libraries to more flexibly lend digital versions of their texts, as is currently practiced by the New York Public Library. Many have criticized Amazon, the Kindle, and other purveyors of DRM-enabled devices for not permitting users to do with their digital books what was essential of their analog counterparts–the ability to share, legally. This seems to be a literal attempt to address those criticisms.
We saw a similar controversy rise over the Kindle voice reader feature that allows users to listen to their E-Books out loud. Amazon dodged one bullet by permitting publishers and copyright holders the ability to allow or disallow the voice reader capability. However, a second bullet was fired at Amazon from advocates of reading for the visually impaired, including the World Blind Union, Electronic Frontier Foundation, and Knowledge Ecology International.
Some argue Amazon had the opportunity to assert users’ rights to the voice reader feature and thus secure disability access, but failed or otherwise decided not to do so. By extension, the new “lending” feature seems also to be a case where Amazon has avoided liability by giving publishers the choice to permit sharing. This may be missing the essence of the argument against DRM formats of books as exemplified in the claims and behaviors of “The Real Caterpillar” from The Millions’ Confessions of a Book Pirate. However, giving Amazon the benefit of the doubt, is this a step toward flexibility of digital books or yet another consessionary act?