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Authors accuse Amazon of breach of contract with Lending Library

A new Amazon.com service that offers free books to Kindle users has authors using some choice words to describe the online retailer and accusing it of breach of contract.

The Lending Library allows Amazon Prime members to borrow e-books from a library of more than 5,000 titles. But authors of many of these books say they were never consulted before their books were given away for free.

A handful of the country’s largest book publishers, a group also known as the “Big Six,” have refused to participate in the Lending Library, as have some slightly smaller publishing houses, according to the Author’s Guild. “No matter,” said a statement from the Guild printed by the Christian Science Monitor. “Amazon simply disregarded these publishers’ wishes, and enrolled many of their titles in the program anyway. Some of these publishers learned of Amazon’s unilateral decision as the first news stories about the program appeared.”

The Guild added that even publishers that did give permission to offer books for free are in breach of contract, because the individual offers weren’t notified or given a chance to object.

Amazon has said it’s offering the titles in the Lending Library according to contracts with various publishers. Until a lawsuit is filed, the retailer doesn’t seem compelled to defend itself further.

What makes this dispute interesting is the connection that a giant book retailer like Amazon provides between authors and readers who might not otherwise read their works. Certainly there’s a trade-off here: Readers are more likely to choose a title if it’s available for free, but the author eager to spread that book to the masses may not see the monetary payoff if their books become more popular due to that free access.

Source: Christian Science Monitor, “Is Amazon’s Kindle Lending Library a breach of contract?” Husna Haq, Nov. 16, 2011

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