Book House part of lawsuit against Amazon and big publishers over e-books

book house exterior

The Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza is one of three indie book stores that have filed a class action suit against Amazon and the "big six" book publishers alleging the companies have violated anti-trust law by forming agreements, and using digital rights management, to exclude indie book stores from the e-book market. The suit also alleges the arrangement is moving Amazon toward having an e-book monopoly. [Huffington Post Scribd]

As the book stores' lead attorney explained to the Huffington Post this week: "We are seeking relief for independent brick-and-mortar bookstores so that they would be able to sell open-source and DRM-free books that could be used on the Kindle or other electronic ereaders." [Huffington Post]

So, in other words, the books stores are looking to prohibit the publishers from publishing e-books that can only be read on a Kindle (or via a Kindle app), and Amazon would be required to allow e-books from any store to be read on a Kindle. They also want the publishers to allow indie brick-and-mortar book stores to be allowed to sell e-books with "open-source" digital rights management ("DRM" -- technology that makes it harder to copy something).

Amazon is said to have about 60 percent of the e-book market. [paidContent]

Here's analysis from Tim Carmody at The Verge, who writes that it's "unlikely" a court will give the book stores what they're looking for. But: "[T]here is potentially a real case to be made that the major publishers, whether in collusion with or coercion from Amazon, Apple, and others, kept independent booksellers from selling ebooks, and used DRM protection as a cudgel with which to do it." (That article is a good overview of the situation.) [Verge]

The suit's use of the term "open source" with regard to DRM has also drawn criticism, notably from prominent DRM critic Cory Doctorow, who writes that he's empathetic to the stores' plight, but accuses the suit of "grossly misusing technical terms." [Boing Boing]

The other book stores joining the Book House in the suit are Fiction Addiction in Greenville, South Carolina, and Posman Books in New York City.

Back in 2011, AOA talked with Susan Novotny, owner of the Book House and Market Block Books in Troy, about the struggles of indie book stores. And in talking about her store's move in to selling e-books, she mentioned the DRM situation with the Kindle. She also touched on the wider side effects of Amazon:

I can not fault people for buying books where they perceive they're getting a better value, and it's not in my constitution to guilt people because they're buying from Amazon and not me. But I think it's a perceived value. We give back to this community in ways that Amazon doesn't and if we were to leave because we can't pay bills or rent not only do we lose, but the community loses. They lose the taxes we pay as a business, they lose 22 jobs and they lose what we donate to the community. We've given millions of dollars back to this community in the past 21 years in the form of charitable contributions and support services, and that's something that will never see from Amazon.
And I mean there's a ripple effect from Amazon taking over not only the book business, but just about any other business. There's a dress shop that has started charging for trying on a dress because some people are taking a picture of the dress and going online to buy it from Bluefly or whoever.
When you have that erosion of any brick and mortar store, you're talking about a ghost town. I'd imagine there are a lot of developers out there who are very concerned about the erosion of brick and mortar stores. If people feel like they are saving money in this economic climate, I can't tell them not to, but these are the things we should be thinking about.

Comments

It's a changing world.

I scoffed at e-books until I downloaded one, and now I'm hooked.

Oh, I still buy books. I recently liked a book so much that I wanted a paper copy to give a friend, so I bought a gently used copy from an independent bookseller -- who was doing business with an Amazon storefront.

Oh how I long for the day when you buy a physical copy of a book and it comes with a free digital copy...

This lawsuit isn't about e-books existing though, Rob. It is about digital rights management on them preventing you from using them the way you like. Currently, if you buy a book from amazon, you can only read it on an amazon device. It's like if you were to buy a CD that you could only play in your car. It makes it not really yours. There is also an issue of 'right of first sale,' you can't re-sell your book you bought on Amazon, the way that you might a nice hardcover you bought from the bookhouse. It is about the rights of the consumer. Good for the book house for defending the little guy!

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