Napster vs. eBooks

At the turn of the century, during the digital music revolution, Napster appeared on the scene. Napster was an online music service that allowed people to easily share their MP3 files with others. The music industry sued Napster for copyright infringement and the original service was shut down by court order.

A decade later, we are in the midst of a digital publishing revolution. Google made digital copies of books available for the public to browse without permission from the copyright holder and were sued by publishers and authors. But that story is not yet finished.

The story continues in more ways than one. Sites that allow readers to share ebooks have sprung up. Sites such as,, and have appeared on the scene. These sites allow ebook readers to loan and borrow ebooks from each other.

Lending books on these sites is similar. Users and lenders swap books for Kindle and Nook formats. The borrower is allowed to have the book for 14 days. When the loan time period is up, the book disappears from the borrower’s library and returns to the lender’s library.

Not quite a Napster, but still a thorn in publishers’ sides. But the problem persists.

A recent study by a British law firm surveyed 1,959 consumers. The survey found that 29% of e-reader owners of both genders and all ages admit piracy. For tablets the figure rises to 36%.

These figures average out to one in every three people downloading ebooks on their e-readers illegally. That’s a lot of books having their copyright infringed upon and a lot of lost revenue for publishers.

The bottom line is that it is easier to lend or steal a digital product than it is a physical item. This is and will continue to create problems for publishers and authors as we move into a digitalized world.

The big question is: What is the best way to protect copyright—which is meant to ensure that authors get rewarded for their talent and expertise and that the publishers who support them see a return on their investment—in the digital age?


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