Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Can I Let Amazon Search Inside Self-Published Book?

Dear Rich: I have recently self-published my first book and would like to allow Amazon to present it through their "Search Inside The Book" (SITB) feature. However, it's not clear to me whether I have the legal right to do so, as my book contains some quoted material to which others hold the copyright (material which is either used by permission or is fair use). From a legal viewpoint, would I be seen as granting Amazon permission to use material copyrighted by others? How do I determine whether I have the legal right to allow Amazon to present my book through their SITB program? If you have the legal  right to publish other people's material in your book -- whether by permission or via fair use -- you likely have the right to permit the "Search Inside the Book" features.
Amazon's POV. As you know, it's not possible to ask Amazon to exclude specific pages or materials from SITB books. The retail behemoth has the final say as to what's SITB-able (although opting out of the program is possible, even for self-publishers). We're not aware of any lawsuits testing the copyright aspects of SITB, and we assume that Jeff Bezos' legal staff views SITB  as the virtual equivalent of browsing in a bookstore (and therefore a fair use).
Your permission agreements. Technically, it may be a violation of your permission agreement to permit the digital display of SITB segments. However, we doubt that anyone will complain about the issue because it will probably be viewed as an accepted part of the book-selling process. However, if your permission agreement specifically prohibits this type of use, you're best off opting out.
Fair use. As for the segments for which you can prove fair use, you should be fine. That's because, if your fair use arguments succeed for the print or electronic versions of the book, they will likely succeed for the SITB virtual display.

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