Danger! Amazon’s Inside the Book Programs Pose Legal Risks for Publishers

June 2004
by Jonathan Kirsch

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Jonathan KirschJonathan Kirsch, a publishing attorney based in Los Angeles, is general counsel of the Independent Book Publishers Association and a recipient of its Benjamin Franklin Award for excellence in publishing.


Not long ago, I was invited to deliver a keynote address at a conference titled “The Literature of Los Angeles.” To prepare my remarks, I needed to select some appropriate passages from the works of important L.A. writers, including Carolyn See, James Ellroy, and Mike Davis. But I did not need to visit a bookstore or a library in order to do so. I did not even have to get up from my desk and go to my own bookshelf. Rather, I spent a few minutes at Amazon.com and found everything I needed by using Amazon’s Look Inside the Book and Search Inside the Book features.

Is that good news or bad news for authors and publishers?

In terms of marketing, both authors and publishers benefit from the Amazon programs, at least in theory, because of the vastly increased visibility of their books. On the other hand, some authors and publishers may lose sales to the Amazon programs. Cookbooks are the favorite examples of the programs’ downside–would-be cookbook purchasers might find the recipes they need at the Amazon site, copy them out or capture and print the screens on which they appear, and forego the purchase of the books themselves. The same risk of selective use affects formbooks, poetry and song collections, and other books.

But the risks associated with Inside the Book options don’t relate just to marketing. A publisher who participates in the Amazon programs may unwittingly expose itself to some serious legal risks. Here are s…IBPA Members – Click here to view the full article (login required).

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