Think you can use Amazon api for library service book covers?

Update 19 May 2008: See also Alternatives To Amazon API including prudent planning for if Amazon changes it’s mind.

Update: 17 Dec 2008: This old blog post is getting a LOT of traffic, so I thought it important to update it with my current thoughts, which have kind of changed.

Lots of library applications out there are using Amazon cover images, despite the ambiguity (to be generous; or you can say prohibition if you like) in the Amazon ToS.  Amazon is unlikely to care (it doesn’t hurt their business model at all). The publishers who generally own copyright on covers are unlikely to care (in fact, they generally encourage it).

So who does care, why does Amazon’s ToS say you can’t do it?  Probably the existing vendors of bulk cover image to libraries. And, from what I know, my guess is that one of them had a sufficient relationship with Amazon to get them to change their terms as below. (After all, while Amazon’s business model isn’t hurt by you using cover images for your catalog, they also probably don’t care too much about whether you can or not).

Is Amazon ever going to notice and tell you to stop? I doubt it. If that hypothetical existing vendor notices, do they even have standing to tell you to stop? Could they get Amazon to tell you to stop? Who knows.  I figure I’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

Lots of library apps are using Amazon cover images, and nobody has formally told them to stop yet. Same for other Amazon Web Services other than covers (the ToS doesn’t just apply to covers).

But if you are looking for a source of cover images without any terms-of-service restrictions on using them in your catalog, a couple good ones have come into existence lately.  Take a look at CoverThing (with it’s own restrictive ToS, but not quite the same restrictions) and OpenLibrary (with very few restrictions). Also, the Google Books API allows you to find cover images too, but you’re on your own trying to figure out what uses of them are allowed by their confusing ToS.

And now, to the historically accurate post originally from March 19 2008….

Think again.

Jesse Haro of the Phoenix Public Library writes:

Following the release of the Customer Service Agreement from Amazon this past

December, we requested clarification from Amazon regarding the use of AWS for library catalogs and received the following response:

“Thank you for contacting Amazon Web Services. Unfortunately your application does not comply with section 5.1.3 of the AWS Customer Agreement. We do not allow Amazon Associates Web Service to be used for library catalogs. Driving traffic back to Amazon must be the primary purpose for all applications using Amazon Associates Web

There are actually a bunch of reasons library software might be interested in AWS. But the hot topic is cover images. If libraries could get cover images for free from AWS, why pay for the expensive (and more technically cumbersome!) Bowker Syndetics service to do the same? One wonders what went on behind the scenes to make Amazon change their license terms in 2007 to result in the above. I am very curious as to where Amazon gets their cover images and under what, if any, licensing terms. I am curious as to where Bowker Syndetics gets their cover images and on what licensing terms–I am curious as to whether Bowker has an exclusive license/contract with publishers to sell cover images to libraries (or to anyone else other than libraries? I’m curious what contracts Bowker has with whom). All of this I will probably never know unless I go work for one of these companies.

I am also curious about the copyright status of cover images and cover image thumbnails in general. Who owns copyright on covers? The publisher, I guess? Is using a thumbnail of a cover image in a library catalog (or online store) possibly fair use that would not need copyright holder permission? What do copyright holders think about this? This we may all learn more about soon. There is buzz afoot about other cover image services various entities are trying to create with an open access model, without any license agreements with publishers whatsoever.

13 thoughts on “Think you can use Amazon api for library service book covers?

  1. There have been some court rulings on thumbnails (Kelly v. Arriba Soft Corporation and Perfect 10 vs. Google). The use of thumbnails under fair use seemed to win on appeal, but I’m not a lawyer and I don’t know if the litigation is final.

    Let’s say they are fair use. The next question is where would libraries obtain them? I think if the original source was Amazon or Google, the thumbnails would still be bound to the license agreements for those APIs. I guess this is where a project like Open Library or the open access image services you talk about come in. That could be a pretty big scanning effort if none of the images come from current thumbnail sources.

  2. Thanks for the case citations.

    If you can get the thumbnails from a source that does not require you to sign a license agreement at all, then all that’s left is copyright, yes?

    I don’t think you need to sign a license agreement for Google Book search.

    There are several other sources of book covers on the web that are publically accessible (via screen scraping possibly) without a license agreement.

    Other than a license agreement (which only applies if you signed one or agreed to one, and doens’t if none was even offered), and copyright… is there anything else that would legally prevent me from screen-scraping cover images from the public web site of my choice? Not sure.

  3. Yeah, I don’t know. If you are scraping then the API license wouldn’t be applicable. However, site licenses/notices might be applicable even if you don’t explicitly sign anything. There is all kinds of case law around shrink wrap licenses that may or may not apply.

    Here are a couple excerpts from Amazon’s conditions of use:

    “All content included on this site, such as text, graphics, logos, button icons, images, audio clips, digital downloads, data compilations, and software, is the property of Amazon or its content suppliers and protected by United States and international copyright laws”

    “Amazon grants you a limited license to access and make personal use of this site and not to download (other than page caching) or modify it, or any portion of it, except with express written consent of Amazon. This license does not include…any derivative use of this site or its contents…or any use of data mining, robots, or similar data gathering and extraction tools… ”

    I don’t know if there can be any copyright ownership declared in the digital file (not the work it represents) by Amazon and Google. Of course, that wouldn’t have much consequence unless Amazon and Google could point to a watermark, checksum, or sign of origin.

    The legal agreement between MBooks and Google Books for Mass Dig brings up similar questions. MBooks is bound by legal agreement not to allow mass downloading of the public domain books. Let’s say somebody managed to obtained all those books even with best efforts to prevent it. Could the third party redistribute them freely? Or does Google/Amazon have some claim to the file version of the book they created?

    Again, I don’t know. Any intellectual property lawyers in the house?

  4. To me the question is can the publishers be convinced that it’s in their best interests for libraries to have access to to the cover images. If they can, then the intellectual property issue is a slam-dunk in favor of libraries. The technical issue… well, there’s a reason Syndetics has that stuff figured out, but it’s possible that things have changed enough that the middleperson could be eliminated. (I do wonder, how “expensive” is “expensive”? I’m open to the idea that we’re paying too much for a service, but like you, I’d like to know more about the process.)

  5. library thing, I tried it for a day putting all my effort to make it work but totallly dissappointing. LT says that they are not a portal plus technically the simple instrucctions the give to get the the image in my site didn’t work.

  6. Nice, thanks Tom, I didn’t know about that! I’m totally going to include that in Umlaut, I like that they’ve got the covers arranged on an ftp server with filenames by issn, so I can easily check to see if a particular cover exists, and link to it in place.

    If anyone knows of any other publishers offering journal cover images like that, let me know for sure.

  7. Actually, we have an API where you can request book covers, etc. We even have a products and offers endpoint, which would allow you to get anything on the product details page of any Amazon product and all of the various prices offered by all of the sellers for that product. Plus you can use our API to place an order too!



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