I’ve been a bit too busy to write for the last few days, so I went to catch up on some stories I missed covering. For starters, here’s one that seems to have little to do with e-books at first, but does have to do with the difference between physical and electronic media causing problems of legislation.
In 1988, a reporter obtained copies of Judge Robert Bork’s movie rental information from a video rental store. This disclosure spurred Congress to pass the Video Privacy Protection Act, which required rental stores to obtain written consent every time they wanted to share video rental records with anyone.
The problem is that the law continues to apply to places like Netflix, who rent movies by mail and streaming and never interact directly with the customer. Which means that if Netflix wanted to allow users to choose to share information about their viewing habits on Facebook, it couldn’t legally do it even if it placed the sharing completely under the users’ control—it would need written permission for every Facebook notification. This led Netflix to introduce Facebook integration in various foreign countries, but not in the USA.
However, last Tuesday the House of Representatives passed legislation to amend the VPPA to allow granting permission over the web, and granting it once for all future sharing. The law still has to pass the Senate to go into effect.
It’s a little strange, really, that the original legislation just singles out video rentals. You would think that someone could tell just as much from someone’s library checkout or e-book purchase records. (Indeed, we’ve covered controversy over the FBI using Patriot Act search warrants to try to do just that.) Can you imagine if you couldn’t choose to share what book you were reading? (Granted, a lot of people wouldn’t want to anyway, but you should at least have the choice.)