Know Your Rights
When purchasing e-books, in addition to device types and e-book formats, you need to consider the various rights schemes that publishers of e-books may apply to their content. Digital Rights Management (DRM) is a catch-all term that refers to the various technologies that can be used to control how electonic content is accessed and used by consumers.
While ostensibly designed to discourage piracy of copyrighted materials, DRM can also hinder legitimate uses of the content in question. It also restricts the ways libraries can make content available to patrons, and may limit your ability to download borrowed materials onto your e-reader.
Ultimately, purchasing an e-book is probably best viewed as a transaction of limited scope and temporary duration. In fact, the vast majority of e-book retailers would maintain that they are not selling, but only licensing, the electronic copies of their books.
Important Differences Between a Hardcopy Book and e-Book
Some important differences between hardcopy and electronic books are as follows:
- Just because a device supports a particular format of e-book does not necessarily mean that you'll be able to transfer the book from one device to another if, for example, you decide to switch devices. In order to use the books on a new device, it must also support the DRM scheme governing the copy of the book in question.
- When you purchase a hardcopy book, you are allowed to resell it; you cannot re-sell e-books. You also cannot leave e-books to your heirs, or donate them to charity.
- Conversely, if you lose a hardcopy of a book, your only option for replacing it is to buy a new copy. But if you accidentally delete an e-book or lose the e-reader onto which you have loaded it, you may be able to download it again at no charge. Unfortunately, retailers' policies vary on this point so there is no easy rule of thumb; for example, Apple allows re-downloading without restriction, whereas Amazon limits the number of times a purchased e-book can be downloaded.
- No matter the retailer, there is no guarantee that you'll always be able to re-download the book in the future. If, for example, the retailer goes out of business or simply as technology changes, you could lose access to your purchases.