Is there a government or industry site or document that specifies eBook rights? Examples of what I'd like to know include:

  • Can I duplicate the book onto multiple devices I own?
  • Can I duplicate the book onto devices of other members of my household?
  • Can I copy the book from one format into another format on devices I own?
  • If I die, are my inheritors legally entitled to receive my eBooks?

If each publisher sets its own rules, is there a resource that describes typical rights?

  • 3
    Which government? Each country has different laws.
    – svick
    Commented Dec 18, 2013 at 23:29
  • @svick I changed my question to USA incorporate your comment. Might be reasonable for this same question to be repeated for many different countries.
    – Joe Golton
    Commented Dec 18, 2013 at 23:32
  • 3
    I strongly believe that questions about the law are a very bad idea on any Stack Exchange site, and I have added an answer about that to this question: meta.ebooks.stackexchange.com/questions/2/… on meta. Commented Dec 22, 2013 at 6:13
  • I do not have a problem with the legal aspect of this but there are literally volumes written on this subject I think this question is too broad. To answer any one of the 4 questions we need to know what licence the ebook was released under, and the TOS of the purchasing location.
    – Chad
    Commented Dec 24, 2013 at 14:43

3 Answers 3


Ebooks are protected by the Digital Milenium Copyright Act (DMCA), so you are only legally able to do what the DRM allows. Most of it depends upon the company who sells the ebook, and the publisher.

  1. If you are allowed to sign on to multiple readers with the same account.
  2. As long as the terms of whoever the account is with allow you to share accounts.
  3. Generally, no, because it would require stripping DRM.
  4. It depends on the company -- Amazon, for example, only allows nontransferable accounts.

There is one exception: if you are legally unable to read books (blind), you can remove the DRM if it prevents screen reader use.

NOTICE: I am not a DMCA expert, nor a legal consultant. I found this information through internet research, so make sure to confirm it.

  • The most common form of DRM in the eBook world is Adobe. While using Adobe DRM, you should be able to view book information when you have downloaded the eBook into your library. This will tell you how many pages you can Print, Copy, and when the counter will get reset. These values are set by the publisher. Many publisher are happy to allow 10% of their eBook printed per week. Commented Dec 19, 2013 at 9:10
  • @Ian - can you (or someone else) please provide links to relevant sources? I think that would be enough for a complete answer. Would be nice if there were links to DMCA and the policies of major ebook sellers (Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Apple, etc.)
    – Joe Golton
    Commented Dec 20, 2013 at 23:25
  • 1
    I think you are missing the licence that the Ebook was released under. DMCA still protects Ebooks released with out DRM. It is also possible that the DRM will allow actions that are prohibited by the Licence. This is still prohibited even though the DRM allows it.
    – Chad
    Commented Dec 24, 2013 at 14:41

…is there a resource that describes typical rights?

Yep, it's called *“copyright” law. Every country has one, including the United States.

That law draws the framework of "typical" rights and obligations for all parties involved. Yet, most of the time, that's not where it stops since authors and publishers will protect some of their rights based on those intellectual property rights. In the end, readers like us tend to end up reading publisher licenses, DRM specifics, and agreements that are sometimes different from sales-point to sales-point, depending on the publisher and/or distributor.

Related to your 4 questions, I can only state what most of us will have to state: I am not a lawyer! So, to keep us both legally safe, I will refrain from answering those. Especially, since the answers to those question may very well be totally different, depending on the books you are talking about, who published them, and under what (legal) conditions you have rented, bought, and/or licensed the individual books.

In case of doubt, ask the people at the point-of-sale about your rights and obligations. Most of the time, you'll notice they're rather open when answering such questions. But if that doesn't satisfy you and you really want to know specific details for sure, you should get legal advise from a professional… a laywer.

  • People from sales are likely to represent the seller's interpretation of the law, so I would not advice to trust them.
    – user43
    Commented Dec 24, 2013 at 20:50

eBooks are not protected by the DMCA. All eBooks are protected by copyright law; eBooks with copy protection (DRM) are in addition copied by the DMCA. eBooks usually come with a license that will often allow you to do things that go beyond copyright law; copy protection may prevent you from doing things that either copyright law or license would allow to do you and obviously may prevent you from making illegal copies. DMCA makes it illegal to get around copy protection, no matter whether the copy would otherwise be legal or illegal.

Without any license: Copyright law doesn't allow you to make any copies. Usually there is a license which allows you to make certain copies.

With a license: You are allowed to do what the license says, and that's different from license to license. Usually a license will allow you to copy onto some number of devices and possibly only certain devices that you own and control for non-commercial use. If copy protection prevents a copy, then DMCA makes it illegal to get around this.

Members of your household may use devices that you own or not. A license that allows to make copies for members of your household is unusual.

When you die... Depends on the license. But really, this is not tested in any court as far as I know, and nobody really knows. I don't think inheritance is legally the same as receiving a present or purchasing, so it could be that the heir just inherits the role of the deceased. Unfortunately, I suspect that my heirs wouldn't be that much interested in the eBooks that I own :-(

By the way, I doubt that your nationality makes any difference.

  • I am not sure if "copied by the DMCA" in the first sentence should not read "protected by the DMCA" (or something else).
    – Anthon
    Commented Mar 10, 2014 at 15:17

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