E-Books – Owner or Licensee?

In April 2019, Microsoft announced that the books category of Microsoft Store would be closing.  Starting this month (July), all e-books (purchased and free) will no longer be accessible, and all book purchases will receive a full refund.

Some consumers may be surprised to learn that they never actually owned the e-books they’d bought and that their right to view them has gone.


Buying a Book

When you buy a book from a physical bookstore, although you’re still bound by various restrictions under copyright law, you own that copy of the work.  You can keep it forever.

When it comes to e-books, the situation may be different.  Purchasing an e-book, particularly one having digital rights management (DRM), usually means that you are not actually buying a copy of the book.  Rather you’re purchasing a licence to view the content, and that licence can expire or be revoked.  If that happens, you may lose access to what you’d paid for.


Digital Rights Management (DRM) and Copyright

Enforcing copyright protection upon digital content is relatively difficult.  Modern computers make it easy to copy works, and the nature of the internet readily enables the distribution of those copies.

Digital Rights Management (DRM), also known as Technological Protection Measures (TPM), is a technology to manage copyright protection around digital media.  DRM attempts to address the challenges of copyright enforcement by making the act of infringement much more difficult in the first place.

Typically, it involves a piece of embedded code, the purpose of which is to control and prevent unauthorised use, copying, modification and distribution of copyright-protected digital works (e.g. software, digital media and multimedia content).

DRM may:

  • Prevent copying, or limit copying for authorised back-up purposes only
  • Impose a time-limit upon access
  • Limit the number of devices upon which the work can be accessed


Our Relationship With Content

Many forms of software are distributed with DRM protection, and as users we are already familiar with this.  We are usually purchasing a license to use the software rather than purchasing the software itself.

With the internet a primary conduit to access and deliver a wide range of content, it’s important to realise that this can now apply to many forms of digital content, including those that are replacing previously physical items (such as books).

Our relationship with content needs to adapt to ensure ongoing compliance and respect for authors and owners, as well as understanding how we now access and enjoy creative works.  We need to appreciate that we are increasingly purchasing a right to access rather than a right to own.

Alistair Curson



BBC. (2019, July 01). “The day the e-books stopped working”. Retrieved July 11, 2019, from: https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-48829661

Mardon R. (2019, April 08). “Do we really own our digital possessions?”. Retrieved July 21, 2019, from: http://theconversation.com/do-we-really-own-our-digital-possessions-115003

Microsoft. (2019, April 05). “Books in Microsoft Store: FAQ”. Retrieved July 11, 2019, from: https://support.microsoft.com/en-gb/help/4497396/books-in-microsoft-store-faq

Patrizio A. (2012, November 09). “You Don’t Own Your Amazon Kindle eBooks”. Retrieved July 20, 2019, from: http://www.technologyguide.com/feature/you-dont-own-your-amazon-kindle-ebooks/

Rouse M. (2009, January). “Digital rights management (DRM)”. Retrieved July 13, 2019, from: https://searchcio.techtarget.com/definition/digital-rights-management

Wikipedia. (2019, July 09). “Digital rights management”. Retrieved July 13, 2019, from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_rights_management


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