April L. Hamilton here. This post provides a cautionary tale about what happens when paranoia about ebook piracy is allowed to run amok. While piracy and intellectual property theft are valid concerns, anyone who suspects his rights are being infringed must see to due diligence before setting out on a witch hunt with torch and pitchfork in hand, based solely on hearsay and suspicions. Remember: anyone can say anything on the internet; that doesn’t make it true.
Fair warning: I am angry, and this is an angry post. When misinformation has the power to kill totally legitimate, above-board small businesses, it’s time to stop being nicey-nice and start getting down to brass tacks. When the business in question directly impacts authors’ livelihoods, it’s time to take action.
This week, there was a huge kerfuffle on Facebook and elsewhere about LendInk.com, a site that allowed people to list any of the ‘lendable’ Kindle or Nook books they own in exchange for getting access to other members’ listings of ‘lendable’ books. The sites make their money on advertising: they don’t get any piece of the action on the lends, which are essentially private transactions between two individuals, carried out in full compliance with the lending rules and limitations set forth by Amazon and B&N. As another person put it in a discussion on my Facebook page:
If I have a copy of ebook X that I think somebody might want to borrow (just once, as per [Amazon’s and B&N’s Terms and Conditions]), I can say so on this site. If someone wants to borrow it, they contact me and I either say yes or no. If I say yes, I tell amazon to lend it and it’s flagged on amazon as having had its lend. No different than me lending it to my mum for her kindle.
Just as with any other lend, the author gets her commission [if she is eligible for one, per Amazon’s and B&N’s terms and conditions] on lends originating from contacts made on sites like LendInk. There is nothing illegal about such sites, and having your book listed as available to lend on such sites is a GOOD thing because the fact that someone else already bought it serves as a kind of implied endorsement, and the lend listings lead to lend commissions you wouldn’t otherwise get [on your Kindle/Nook books that are eligible for lend commissions].
But once a few hair-on-fire, sky-is-falling types of indie authors got wind of LendInk and found their books listed there, they jumped right to the WRONG conclusion that this was some kind of illegal Napster for ebooks and went on the warpath. Rather than take a few moments to read the site’s FAQ, where the specifics of the site and the legality of it were addressed clearly and in detail, these authors immediately started posting warnings to all their author friends about this new ebook pirating site, LendInk. It became an online game of ‘telephone’, with well-meaning people re-posting incorrect claims about LendInk, and the claims about LendInk getting more distorted as they were passed around and new posters added their take on the situation. In a matter of just THREE DAYS, it went from an online campaign of spreading hysterical misinformation to LendInk being shut down.
The icing on this cake d’stupidity is that many people are taking the fact that LendInk has been shut down as proof that it MUST have been a pirate site, and posting "Yay, us!! We beat the evil ebook pirates!!" messages online. A more accurate message for them to post would be, "Yay, us!! We killed a small business that was making readers happy and making authors money!! And we did it without any actual evidence of wrongdoing, just hearsay and angry threats!! This is a victory for those who wish to cut off noses to spite faces everywhere!!"
While I’m still investigating the specifics of the shutdown, there’s a suspension of service message on LendInk’s former home page so I think the most likely reason is that one or more ill-informed authors sent ‘takedown’ notices to LendInk’s web hosting company, threatening legal action for intellectual property theft.
Even though LendInk wasn’t doing anything illegal or unethical, having to prove it in court is a costly and time-consuming process. Add to this the fact that you must generally stop doing business until you’ve been exonerated in court, and it’s not surprising that the great majority of small businesses are more likely to fold than fight the good fight. If anyone were to bring a totally bogus legal action against Publetariat, there’s no question I’d shut the site down rather than go to court to defend it. I simply don’t have the money or time to fight a frivolous lawsuit, no matter how completely ridiculous that lawsuit’s claims might be.
I fervently hope LendInk will be back, but it’s too soon to tell. For now, just let me say this to everyone who’s participated in the events leading up to its suspension this week:
Congratulations. You may have just destroyed a legitimate small business that was making life better for readers and authors of ebooks. You have caused someone who was in business to serve readers and authors a great deal of stress and expense, and potentially the total loss of his livelihood. You have definitely cost every author whose book was listed there the lend commissions [or added exposure] they would have otherwise received through this totally legal, legitimate channel for Amazon’s and B&N’s existing ebook lending programs. Pat yourself on the back, because I certainly won’t be doing it.
UPDATED TO ADD:
There’s some evidence to suggest LendInk’s site was hacked. I can’t say for certain whether it was or not, and if it was, whether the hack was a targeted attack instigated by one of those making false claims about LendInk. I’ve got some feelers out to contacts and I’m trying to get the full story.
But whatever the reason for LendInk’s current state of suspension, its owner is now put in the position of having to answer to all the false claims authors have made about it in emails to Amazon. I’m hopeful that once Amazon fully investigates the situation, they will see there’s been no wrongdoing and alter their responses to authors who complain about LendInk accordingly.
Also, I’m getting some feedback from people with wrong information. Let me address the myths floating around out there.
MYTH: Only Prime members can lend or borrow Kindle books.
FACT: Any Kindle book the publisher has marked as Lendable is lendable. The Kindle Lending Library is a special, sub-program for Prime members that gives them access to books publishers have approved only for limited lends to Prime members. Read Amazon’s page about Kindle book lending here.
MYTH: LendInk claimed to have Amazon’s approval to list its books on its site and lend them on its site, and it was a lie.
FACT: LendInk claimed all lends were processed by Amazon and B&N, and they were. No special ‘agreement’ is necessary, since it was the owners of the Kindle books who were listing them on LendInk, NOT LendInk itself. All they were doing was putting Kindle book owners in touch with one another, it was those book owners who actually transacted with one another to request and approve lends.
Here is some of the actual text from the former FAQ on LendInk:
Is the loaning of eBooks really legal? Isn’t this the same as file sharing?
Yes, loaning of certain eBooks is legal and No, it is not the same as file sharing. The key difference between the two is that the loan status of an eBook is directly dictated by the publisher and file sharing is usually done without the publishers consent. Working with Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble, the publisher’s make their eBooks available for loan under very strict rules. The actual book loaning process is handled by Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble, not by Lendink.
I am a Publisher or Author of a book on Lendink, how did you get a copy of my book?
First, let us explain up front, we do not have a copy of your book. This is actually a common misunderstanding of how Lendink functions. No book has or will be stored on any Lendink server, ever. The title of the book is entered by our members and the book information is fed to us by an automated link between Lendink and Amazon or Barnes and Noble. Our servers only store our member contact information and the basic book information such as the author, ASIN and book description. We do not even store the book cover artwork.
MYTH: LendInk was allowing members to lend multiple copies of the same book, which is against the one-lend policy. I saw (or my friend saw) where multiple copies of one book were listed as available to lend.
FACT: Not true. If multiple copies of a single book were listed as available to lend, that just means multiple members of LendInk owned that book and listed it as available to lend. Since all lends occurred off the LendInk site, through Amazon and B&N’s *own* lending mechanisms, it would not be possible for any Kindle book owner to exceed publishers’ specified lend limits—at least, not without some kind of hacking or dishonesty on the part of the Kindle book owner. And even if that were to occur, it would not be LendInk’s fault.
MYTH (Well, not really a myth, but another misleading item that needs to be addressed): I wrote to Amazon about LendInk and they wrote back to say LendInk was not authorized by Amazon to lend Kindle books.
FACT: Amazon is correct in this response, but the thing is, LendInk was NOT lending Kindle books. LendInk was just a specialized messaging and lendable ebook listing service, at its heart. It put owners of lendable ebooks in touch with one another, and those owners conducted the lend/borrow transaction off of the LendInk site, through Amazon’s (or B&N’s, in the case of Nook books) channels.
Amazon can only reply to the question put to it; if the question is, "Is LendInk authorized by Amazon to lend my Kindle book?" their answer will be "no". If anyone had written in to ask if owners of lendable Kindle books are allowed to list those books online for purposes of connecting with other lendable book owners, he or she would’ve received a different response.
MYTH: My book is offered through KDP Select, so it’s not lendable.
FACT: Lendability is a requirement of participation in KDP Select. Here’s the main Amazon KDP page about the program (note how most of the information here is specifically ABOUT lending), and here’s a link to KDP Select terms and conditions.
I’ll add more to this section [ on the original blog post ] as more myths come in.