Publishing Trendsetter is a production of Market Partners International and Publishing Trends.

Book Piracy Made Easy, Or: Whose Book Is It Anyway?

Spoiler alert: with ebook discussions come  copyright discussions.

The 3 easy steps for 1DollarScans

There are so many layers to these issues that people more experienced than I are still figuring out. Bureaucratic acrobatics abound. I was most recently baffled by the situation of certain European publishers who are finding it harder and harder to sell rights to US publishers because they (the EU publishers) insist on retaining e-rights. Is this because they want to try their hand at their own global English e-distribution? I asked Lucinda Karter of the French Publishers Agency. Well, if they did, she explained, they’d get shut down right away, because the US or UK publisher bought the rights for “all formats.” Now, the seller can (with more and more difficulty) add an addendum to exclude e-rights. But that only means the Anglophone buyer can’t make an English ebook, not that the original publisher can. If the original publisher tried to make an English-language edition, they would suddenly be in breach of contract for impeding on “all formats.” So now there are a host of ebook translation rights, that, quite handily, no one can actually use.

Riddle me that, Batman.

But then there’s the puzzle of what rights the reader owns, once he or she
buys a print book. This question bubbled to the top of my blog bucket this morning because of an article on 1DollarScan posted on Singularity HubQuoth they:

Yusuke Ohki started BookScan after he laboriously converted his personal library of 2000+ volumes into digital documents. Now the company has 200+ employees who do nothing but that, and reportedly the service is so popular in Japan there’s an extensive waiting list. 1DollarScan promises to bring the same dependable, quick, and hopefully popular service to the US with its freshly debuted Silicon Valley headquarters…The basic components of the technology in action: Send, slice, scan, and email. From book to PDF in about two weeks. We’ve seen better machines, but 1DollarScan makes scanning books simple, and simple sells…1DollarScan seems pretty cheap, but there are some hidden costs. First, shipping. You pay for it all yourself. Also, did I mention you never get your printed materials back unless you pay a return fee?1DollarScan defaults to recycling your paper unless you expressively request otherwise.

So…theoretically I could just have the PDF as a replacement to my print book (because I didn’t ask for my print book to be sent back) and never email the PDF to other people. I could also theoretically continue living in New York and never jaywalk again.

I cannot be the first person puzzled by this. I mean, just click here to download your free copy of Frederick Warne & Co.‘s 2002 edition of Peter Rabbitand be battered by waves of irony as you read on the copyright page:

no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior written permission of the above publisher of this book.

OK. I, Elisabeth Watson, and the rest of the crew here at Trendsetter are royally baffled. Dear internet: please explain to us how this is legal. We eagerly await your reply.


  1. No, you’ve summed it up pretty well: you can make a digital copy as long as you never share it. I don’t think this is spelled out in U.S. law, but the precedent set so far (especially in music, where these issues have been debated for decades) is that someone who buys an analog format has the right to create a digital backup for their own use. Scanning a book you bought and making a PDF is acceptable; making that PDF available to others is not.

    In this case a third party is actually creating the backup–that might be significant or it might be splitting hairs.

  2. Lisa says:

    So this mean that if I scan a book and give the book to my neighbour, it is legal to give them the PDF as well?

  3. That’s a really good question, Lisa, and I hope we may be able to get someone who’s beefed up on the legal side to chip in. I’m really thankful for your clarifications of the owner’s rights, Brendan.

    My biggest question is what–if any–DRM could (or should) 1$Scans put into their PDFs to prevent my sending them, say The Night Circus (I think released today?), having them PDF it for me, and then sending the PDF to my entire email list? Though, I guess if I do that, I’m the one breaking the law, not the company…

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