Free Project Gutenberg Books Being Sold in Amazon’s Kindle Store

The Washington Post is reporting that Kindle users are being charged for books they could get for free from Project Gutenberg, a collection of public domain ebooks. The article says:

The titles in question aren’t just public-domain books that have long been freely available at such sites as Project Gutenberg. They appear to be the exact Gutenberg files, save only for minor formatting adjustments and the removal of that volunteer-run site’s license information.

Gutenberg contributor Linda M. Everhart complained in an e-mail in late October that Amazon was selling a title she’d contributed to Gutenberg, Arthur Robert Harding’s 1906 opus “Fox Trapping,” for $4.

“They took the text version, stripped off the headers and footer containing the license, re-wrapped the sentences, and made the chapter titles bold,” wrote Everhart, a Blairstown, Mo., trapper. She added that “their version had all my caption lines, in exactly the same place where I had put them.”

The article goes on to explain that this is not illegal, as it’s permitted under the Project Gutenberg license. The license says, “”If you strip the Project Gutenberg license and all references to Project Gutenberg from the ebook, you are left with a public domain ebook. You can do anything you want with that.”

Even though it’s not illegal, Project Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation chief executive Greg Newby finds the practice unethical. He would like to see Amazon offer Project Gutenberg texts at no cost and DRM-free.

I think it’s important to emphasize that third party sellers, not Amazon, are uploading the books to Amazon’s Kindle store.

So what do you think about this? Does it bother you or is it a non-issue? I’m sure creating the Gutenberg texts is time consuming and it sucks to have someone take your work. However, isn’t that the nature of working with public domain texts? Is it really reasonable to expect Amazon to police this? As far as Amazon customers are concerned, I think it’s up to them to shop around before they purchase a public domain work. Like The Washington Post article points out, it’s pretty simple to search the Gutenberg site before you buy a Kindle book. That’s just my two cents. Let me know what you think in the comments.

Follow me on Twitter @kristendaemons

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