People Interact

Blog about people-centered design by Lisa Chow and Sandra Sajonas.

The Book Elf: The eBook Sharing Social Network – Guest Post by Greg Belvedere

The Book Elf will make sharing eBooks easy.

The Book Elf will make sharing eBooks easy, while adhering to copyright laws. This free eBook sharing social network will start by making public domain eBooks shareable, but gradually add copyrighted works. The site launched July 19th.

People have shared books for as long as they have read them. Unfortunately, most copyrighted eBooks have licenses that make it illegal for the owner to do so. Many of these licenses rely on DRM (digital rights management) file formats to enforce their terms. These DRM file formats create a poor experience for the average reader, while doing little to deter the tech savvy pirate. It would be a shame if we lost the ability to share books as we transition to eBooks. At the same time authors and publishers have concerns about file sharing that we must address. The Book Elf strikes a balance that will satisfy both readers and copyright holders.

The Book Elf will start by letting users share public domain eBooks. Public domain works don’t have copyright restrictions, so you can share them freely with your friends. Most literary classics are in the public domain, giving users a great selection to chose from. Users can find eBooks by searching their friends’ shelves, or searching The Book Elf which also links to the Internet Archive’s public domain collection. If a public domain eBook is not in our collection, users can upload a copy. We will verify the public domain status before adding it to the user’s shelf and our collection. Users can also write reviews for eBooks.

In order to allow legal sharing of copyrighted works, The Book Elf will create a new eBook license that allows authors and publishers who adopt it to make their copyrighted eBooks shareable through the site. The Book Elf will approach independent authors and publishers with this new model first. Instead of using DRM file formats which create a poor user experience, The Book Elf will build DRM into the website itself to prevent copies from proliferating. Three simple rules will keep sharing fair for copyright holders, while still leveraging the advantages of this digital format to give users a great experience:

  1. Users can only share copyrighted eBooks with friends in their network. This prevents users from giving a copy away to everyone with an internet connection (the way most file sharing methods do).
  2. Users may download a copyrighted eBook from a friend’s shelf, but they may not place it on their own shelf to share with other users. This will prevent people who do not own the book, and therefore do not have the right to share it, from making it available on The Book Elf.
  3. When a user downloads a copyrighted eBook nobody else can download that eBook from that shelf for 3 weeks. This will prevent a user from giving an eBook to everyone in their network at once.

The Book Elf makes sharing eBooks both fair and convenient with a new approach to DRM. The site went live on July 19th. You can sign up at

Greg Belvedere is the founder of The Book Elf, the DRM-Free ebook lending social network.


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