Washington Post Technology writer Rob Pegoraro reports a complaint that "Amazon charges Kindle users for free Project Gutenberg e-books" -- meaning that Amazon is allowing suppliers to sell, through Amazon's self-service publishing, versions of public domain books that are apparently derived from Project Gutenberg editions and nearly identical to them.
Note that it's considered okay to spiff up basic public domain books (which is why they're called that) and then sell them for the value of what you've done to make them comfortably readable on an e-reader and, we hope, typo-free.
Public domain books make up the bulk of the 20,000+ free Kindle books that Amazon makes downloadable to Kindles at any time, but apparently some suppliers are uploading to the self-servicing publishing area of Amazon (for the 70% revenue offered self-publishers of Kindle-formatted books) copies of the Project's e-books that were essentially created earlier by them from scanned images. Even this would be legal, as, again, the basic text, once there are no Project title pages, is in the public domain.
' The titles in question aren't just public-domain books that have long been freely available at such sites as Project Gutenberg. They appear to be the exact Gutenberg files, save only for minor formatting adjustments and the removal of that volunteer-run site's license information. '
You'd think that the work that another organization spent converting image-based pages into proofed text to make them more easily readable on an e-reader should not just be taken for re-selling while the original organization is offering their work for free.
Pegoraro expands on this:
' Gutenberg contributor Linda M. Everhart complained in an e-mail in late October that Amazon was selling a title she'd contributed to Gutenberg, Arthur Robert Harding's 1906 opus "Fox Trapping," for $4.
"They took the text version, stripped off the headers and footer containing the license, re-wrapped the sentences, and made the chapter titles bold," wrote Everhart, a Blairstown, Mo., trapper. She added that "their version had all my caption lines, in exactly the same place where I had put them." '
Everhart identified other "instances of Kindle cloning" and Pegoraro writes "These titles appear to be sold with Amazon's standard digital-rights-management restrictions, a limit absent from Gutenberg downloads." (However, most of the public domain books I have, for free, from Amazon, don't have DRM restrictions on how many Kindles can share the book. )
Everhart describes the kind of work she and others do to make the free Project Gutenberg books available, which involves downloading a scan of the book's pages from the Internet Archive's collection, running it through optical-character-recognition software and then correcting mistakes and stripping out extraneous data "before formatting the text to Gutenberg's strict guidelines. Next comes converting that text file into an HTML version with linked images that can finally be uploaded to Gutenberg."
Pegoraro adds, "Apparently it's less work to convert that output to a Kindle Store download..."
Some don't think so, but there are definite indications that too many Amazon digital-text-publishing uploaders do not consider proof reading important.
But, again, all this is permitted under the Gutenberg license.
Project Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation chief executive Greg Newby wrote in an email, "Is this legal? Yes. Is it ethical? I don't think it is."
Newby added that although many other booksellers do this, Amazon is "the worst offender" because of the number of of suppliers for Amazon.
See the article for Amazon's response so far.
Newby has suggested to Amazon that it could directly offer Gutenberg titles as no-charge, DRM-free downloads -- something Apple did in its iBooks store. He doesn't mention what the terms were though, on Gutenberg's part.
Pegoraro sees a simple solution:
' Search the Gutenberg site for a title you're interested in buying for your Kindle and download it from there if it's available.
Not only does that site usually offer books in Kindle formats, you can even download them directly to a Kindle. '
The link he gives there is to this blog's article on how to browse/search a Project Gutenberg "Magic Catalog" on your Kindle for one of the 30,000+ books available there and then click to download the book direct to the Kindle.
At this blog's Free Kindle Books page, I also include MobileRead Forum books, another non-Amazon e-book source, which displays its public-domain books sorted by Amazon-readable 'PRC' (Mobi) format and by most recent first. These tend to be even better formatted, with linked table-of-contents page when applicable, and mostly free.
And then there are the 2 million+ free books at Internet Archive, downloadable directly to the Kindle also.
I explain that at the Internet Archive article.
ONLY AMAZON KINDLE BOOKS CAN BE SYNC'D WITH COMPATIBLE DEVICES
One thing needs to be mentioned about getting or not getting public domain books from Amazon (there are over 20,000 free e-books in the Kindle store -- see the footer of any blog article in this blog to find them and the temporarily free contemporary Kindle books as well).
You can "sync" the Kindle editions with any reading you do on apps for iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Blackberry, Android smartphones, PC, Mac, etc., and resume from where you were on the other device.
That syncing can't be done for ebooks that Amazon doesn't have on its servers.
Also, highlighting and notes made on non-Amazon books aren't backed up to the Amazon servers (as Amazon doesn't have the books) and therefore aren't viewable and copyable at the customer's private, password protected website at Amazon. This might be important to those who have a student's approach to books.
Amazon probably should have a rule against self-service publishing (in Kindle format) of a public domain book that has been carefully converted to text by another entity, proofread, formatted in HTML and already released in Kindle-readable format at no charge -- but then Amazon would have to spend time checking all the uploaded public domain books against other editions of those books.
Still, they could probably stipulate that there is no publisher payment for books just taken from Project Gutenberg and the Project's identifier statements stripped.
UPDATE - If you're reading this at the web edition of the blog, please read the first two comments to see the licensing language that Project Gutenberg has, which says that that if anyone modifies a Project Gutenberg book and does charge for it, they don't claim a right to prevent someone from "copying, distributing, performing, displaying, or creating derivative works based on the work as long as all references to Project Gutenberg are removed."
Kindle 3's (UK: Kindle 3's), DX Graphite
Check often: Temporarily-free late-listed non-classics or recently published ones
Guide to finding Free Kindle books and Sources. Top 100 free bestsellers.
UK-Only: recently published non-classics, bestsellers, or highest-rated ones
Also, UK customers should see the UK store's Top 100 free bestsellers. Below are ways to Share this post if you'd like others to see it.
-- The Send to Kindle button works well only on Firefox currently.
(Older posts have older Kindle model info. For latest models, see CURRENT KINDLES page. )
If interested, you can also follow my add'l blog-related news at Facebook and Twitter
Questions & feedback are welcome in the Comment areas (tho' spam is deleted). Thanks!