Ebooks and Apps in the Legal Realm

My employer recently purchased several iPads for the Reference staff to use.  Since receiving one of the iPads, I have been exploring many of the apps which relate to legal research, including apps for LexisNexis, WestlawNext and Fastcase (all can be found on iTunes).  All of these have their own pros and cons, and have been discussed in other blogs, thus negating a need for me to re-discuss these. See e.g. Jason Sowards, Yes, There’s an App For That, RIPS Law Librarian Blog (Feb. 24, 2010); The WestlawNext App for the iPad Redefines Legal Research for the Mobile Lawyer, Law on My Phone (Aug. 26, 2010).

What really intrigued me, however, are ebooks.   I have both a Kindle and an iPod Touch which I have been using to read ebooks for almost two years, so it only made sense that I would explore them on the iPad as well.  I installed the usual apps, iBooks, Kindle and Stanza and happily started exploring the differences.   Unfortunately, I ran into problems very soon.

The biggest problems that I and many of my colleagues have had with ebooks are the inability to 1) lend the ebook and 2) use it on an ereader.  NetLibrary, for example, is frustrating because it locks its books into a web browser, making users access the materials in the same manner as they would a database.  It is impossible to download and read the books offline or even mark your place and return to it at a later date.  I had similar problems with Safari Books Online when using one of their books the other night.  At the end of my reading session, I had to physically write down where I left off so that I can pick up at the correct point again later.

This has not been a big issue thus far in the legal world, since legal publishers have been slow to move to the ebook format outside of their traditional online databases, such as Lexis and CCH’s IntelliConnect.  West is one of the most advanced of the publishers on this issue as it has slowly been moving forward with ebooks, and now has 150 titles out in Kindle format, including a few useful practitioner titles such as the Florida DUI Handbook, 2009-2010 ed.  You can view the full list on their ebook page.  Unfortunately, Kindle books cannot currently be lent to other users, and the discussion of future lending ability includes only one loan EVER for a title, if the publisher allows lending, and then for only 2 weeks.  Wolters Kluwer announced that they were starting to release ebooks aimed at the enTourage Edge ebook reader, but a quick glance in the enTourage ebook selection only produces one Wolters Kluwers title. Instead, Aspen has started releasing ebooks into the AspenLaw Studydesk software.

The Law Librarian Blog recently announced that CCH and ALM are also moving into ebook sales.  I checked out both and found that ALM is using the NetLibrary model, where you have to read the books in a web browser.  CCH pleasantly surprised me by using Adobe Digital editions format, which provides the following benefits:

  • Download and use offline
  • Cut and Paste
  • Print features
  • Annotate ebooks
  • DRM capabilities, including the ability to allow books to be lent with a specific due date where the book then expires and cannot be accessed unless rechecked out.

Overdrive, an electronic media platform used by many libraries to loan ebooks, audiobooks and movies, uses the same format for lending ebooks.  I was originally disappointed in Overdrive because there was no iPad/iPhone application to read Adobe DRM-locked ePub files, just a Windows and Mac program.  That changed last month with the release of the Bluefire Reader app.  After discovering this app last week, I have been happily reading new releases on my iPad via my local public library’s Overdrive subscription.

CCH’s choice of ebook format made me hopeful that CCH would be the first legal publisher to join with libraries in lending digital legal titles.  I imagined our Tax LLM students running around with all of their tax books on an iPad with the BlueFire reader installed, rather than with two book bags full of codes, regulations, and textbooks.  Alas, my vision was shattered when I ran across this license restriction:

You shall not share, lend, lease, rent, sell, license, sublicense, transfer, network, reproduce, display, distribute, or otherwise make any of the Digital Content available to any other person.  For the avoidance of doubt, any universities, libraries or other similar institutions purchasing Digital Content hereunder shall not be allowed to make such Digital Content available to any third party, including their faculty, students, patrons, members or any other person.

CCH, E-book User Agreement (Sept. 16, 2010).

Even though I was disappointed by CCH this time, the technology exists for legal lending libraries and some legal publishers are starting to adopt it.  With enough encouragement, the publishers will hopefully start working with libraries to lend digital materials.  Perhaps we should push CCH and Wolters Kluwer to start discussions with Overdrive about creating a digital legal lending library.

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This entry was posted in Apps (Applications), ebooks, Technology and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Ebooks and Apps in the Legal Realm

  1. tjsllibrary says:

    This is really helpful, I’m going to share this with our law students. Thanks!

  2. Pingback: Legal Mobile Phone Apps | ThomChat

  3. Pingback: Ebook Apps update « RIPS Law Librarian Blog

  4. Pingback: Downloadable and Lendable Legal Ebooks…Hallelujah! « RIPS Law Librarian Blog

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