Amazon Charging Users For Free eBooks

eBooks may be cheaper than their hardback counterparts, but that doesn't mean you should assume you're getting a good deal. As the Washington Post reports, Amazon has been charging Kindle users to download books, which are in the public domain, that could easily and legally be downloaded elsewhere free of charge and in almost identical formats.

"The titles in question aren't just public-domain books that have long been freely available at such sites as Project Gutenberg," writes the Washington Post. "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."

Books like "Canadian Wilds" --minus references to Project Gutenberg, but with the addition of a $3.69 pricetag--have appeared on Amazon's e-bookshelf just a day after being uploaded to Gutenberg.

While Amazon is taking a cut from the sale of the books, it is not directly responsible for uploading the Gutenberg titles. For this, third parties using Amazon's self-service publishing platform can be thanked.

The practice is completely legal--Project Gutenberg says in an explanation of its license, "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."

Yet as one Gutenberg contributor told the Post, preparing a text for Gutenberg requires a number of steps, from scanning the text to fixing mistakes to formatting the book properly, and some have mixed feelings about Amazon taking their digitized titles at zero cost, repurposing them, and then profiting off of the organization's work.

An alternative would be for Amazon to offer the Gutenberg texts at no cost to its users, as Apple currently does in its iBooks store. Users also have the option of downloading titles directly from the Gutenberg Project's website, rather than using Amazon's digital storefront.

How do you think Amazon should handle this issue? Weigh in below.