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Lawyers, Judges, eBooks, and Privacy: Tortoise or Hare, Legislation or “Free” Market?


In the race to eBook-nirvana, should lawyers and judges stop long enough to read the privacy fine print in their eBook contracts?  (You can be sure law librarians are reading it.)

We all know (at least I hope you all do) that publishers and digital distributors collect data on how you use your eBook. They know what you read, how fast, if you read the end before you read the beginning – well, maybe not the latter. But they could track that if they wanted to and come up with a profile of people who do just that (ahem).

Don’t forget that Wall Street Journal article, July 19, 2012, Your E-Book is Reading You,” by Alexandra Alter, about data collected on the average eBook reader.

Is the same type of reading-habit data collected on lawyers and judges and their law e-Books? (Note: this is a separate issue from how private your online database searches and online legal-treatise reading habits are.)

While the answer might not be a resounding “you betcha,” you can be sure some or even most of your law eBook reading habit data is being collected, whether by Elsevier (parent to Lexis), Thomson Reuters (parent to Westlaw), other eBook publishers, Overdrive (a digital distributor), and others, not to mention data-crunchers who buy the data from the digital distributors.

Here are 2 resources to whet your law eBook privacy whistle, but it’s clear that no one knows the answer to the question: Is your LAW eBook reading you?

1) The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) publishes an annual E-Book Buyer’s Guide to Privacy:

“Who’s Tracking Your Reading Habits? An E-Book Buyer’s Guide to Privacy,” 2012 Edition, November 29, 2012, Cindy Cohn and Parker Higgins, including a link to their Chart.

2) InfoDocket alerts us to several news stories about eBook reader privacy, including some legislation in New Jersey: “E-book readers / Privacy, please”

While state and federal legislators have a mixed record on protecting individual privacy, the act of debating proposed legislation is always a good thing. Issues can be hashed out by public policy experts, legislators, and voters in hearings, in legislative halls and offices, and in the media.

3) Last, but not least, if you want to read more about law eBooks and on the costs of going digital in law libraries, here’s the first (we hope) of a few articles on the subject:

“Cheaper Online? Our firm library’s gradual move to all electronic,” by LaJean Humphries, in the AALL Spectrum, March 2013, Vol. 17, no. 5.

The American Association of Law Libraries kindly makes their monthly newsletter, the Spectrum, publicly available.

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