Amazon’s Kindle Lending Library–which allows Amazon Prime customers to “borrow” one free e-book at a time from a selection of more than 5,000–may have been warmly received by Kindle users when it was announced last week, but according to the Authors Guild, the move is nothing more than “an exercise of brute economic power.”
According to a statement from the Guild, Amazon ignored publishers’ refusal to be involved in the program by enrolling their titles without permission or, it’s claimed, even knowledge. “Some of these publishers learned of Amazon’s unilateral decision as the first news stories about the program appeared,” the Guild claims, adding that the company “decided that it doesn’t need the publishers’ permission because, as Amazon apparently sees it, its contacts with these publishers merely require it to pay publishers the wholesale price of the books that Amazon Prime customers download.” This thinking, the Guild goes on to explain, is seriously flawed.
Calling Amazon’s reading of its own contractual terms “nonsense,” the Guild argues that “publishers did not surrender this level of control to the retailer,” making the Lending Library an example of the company “boldly breaching its contracts with these publishers.” Worse yet, according to the Guild, the publishers that did sign on to the Lending Library program are also in breach of contract, because they did not have the right to offer their books without the prior approval of the books’ authors.
“[A]re any of the more than 5,000 books legitimately in the program?” the Guild asks, before pointing out that Amazon itself published 138 of the titles in the program, and hypothesizes that other publishers may either have author permission to add their books or else specially-worded contracts to allow it without permission. “If so, we’ve yet to learn of such arrangements,” the statement adds. For the authors whose books are being made available for lending without explicit permission, either from the publisher or the author themselves, the Guild suggests legal action as an option, something that Amazon would undoubtedly want to avoid, if only from a PR standpoint. Perhaps we should expect to see the number of books available in the Lending Library drop dramatically in the months ahead.
Graeme McMillan is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @Graemem or on Facebook at Facebook/Graeme.McMillan. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.