June 21, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Love Whispersync, Hate the Terms: How can schools legally work with Kindle technology?

For the past few years, I’ve recommended against using Kindle hardware and Kindle Store content in school libraries, while acknowledging the high quality of Kindle products. The problem? Confusing and potentially damaging contractual language in Amazon’s terms of use. Now, Amazon has me tempted with Whispersync, an amazing new ebook service for simultaneous or seamlessly alternating text and audio reading. Kindle’s contract still scares me. Are you listening, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos? Let’s find a solution.

Dear Mr. Bezos:

I’m writing you in the hope that you can solve a problem. As an avid consumer of ebooks, I’ve always had great respect for the Kindle. Your vision—and your hardware—has made a tremendous cultural impact in promoting reading. However, I’m unable to purchase Kindles for my school library.

It’s a serious dilemma. To the general public—including most teachers and school administrators—“ebook” means “bestseller fiction from authors I love,” and “ebook reader” refers to a Kindle product. I’ve spent some time explaining to users that there are alternative ebook readers—and most worked better for schools and libraries. Then, you released the holy grail of ebook features for education: Whispersync for Voice and Immersion Reading.

Synchronized highlighting and audio have been available via other technology for readers with special needs. I’ve been buying ebooks with synced highlighting and voice-actor narration for years. Yet those books are built with Flash and tend to be titles issued by smaller independent publishers.

Enter Immersion Reading. Bestseller fiction? Check. Big name authors? Check. Portable technology? Check. Usable in schools? Nope.

This stellar ebook technology is guarded by a deadly contract. Though Amazon’s Whispercast service facilitates using Kindle hardware in schools, there’s a problem with the terms of use. The agreement allows Whispercast hardware and content use in schools. That presumably extends to Whispersync products. But it notes that “use of Whispercast is also subject to the Amazon.com Kindle terms.” These terms prohibit using Kindle Store content in schools and libraries. Content is “solely for your personal, non-commercial use…may not sell, rent, lease, distribute, broadcast, sublicense, or otherwise assign any rights….”

Worse, the contracts state that Amazon reserves the right to terminate, without warning, a school’s account, delete its content, and render hardware unusable.

I’ve called the Kindle for Education support team. They tell me not to worry—Amazon supports our use of the content in schools and libraries. Yet there’s a remarkable reluctance to put those reassurances in writing. Then again, this same support team says that you can buy one copy of a book and deploy it on multiple Kindle devices simultaneously to multiple students.

Mr. Bezos, does Amazon fully and legally support the use of Kindle hardware and content in schools? Is a school granted legal license to loan out Kindle hardware and Kindle content (including Audible content for Immersion Reading) to students through Whispercast? Will you provide a clear answer in writing so we can move forward with the holy grail of ebook technology?

Thank you for your time,
Christopher Harris

This article was published in School Library Journal's November 2013 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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