A Great Way to Digitize Your Library, Mostly

My partner gives me the stink-eye every time I attempt to jam another new paperback into our already overflowing bookshelves.

Buying e-books instead of physical tomes has gone a long way towards reducing the clutter in our home, but replacing the dead tree editions I already own with electronic copies would clean things up even further. That’s where 1DollarScan comes in. It’s a company that specializes in making high-quality electronic versions of the books sent in by its customers.

Here’s how it works. After setting up a password-protected account, 1DollarScan’s users are asked to provide a bit of information on the books they want to have converted into e-books. Black and white, or full color? How many pages are in each book? That sort of thing. The latter is important, as 1DollarScan doesn’t charge by the book, but by the page — a buck for every 100 pages. Scanning a 302 page novel, for example, will cost you $4. If you’re thinking that paying a dollar to scan the last two pages of a book is crap, you’d be right. Fortunately, the remaining 98 pages your dollar bought you can be applied toward having the rest of your order scanned. So the smart way to do it is to get multiple books converted at the same time.

For every book you send to 1DollarScan, you’ll also have to send along a signed waiver stating that you understand you’re having a copy of your books made under the company’s Fair Use Policy. The waiver also frees the company from any liability that they might have incurred for making a copy of a book that you don’t own. Once the contracts are signed, just pop them into the box with your books and ship them off to the company’s offices in California.

When the books are received by 1DollarScan, the workers cut the spines off of them. This ensures that the pages of the book lay flat on the scanner, and makes it impossible to resell the hard copy of the book after it’s been scanned. When the scanning’s complete, the pages are shredded and recycled, ensuring that the owner only has access to one copy of their book: the freshly minted digital version, which can be downloaded as a PDF from the company’s website via the user’s password-protected account.

Given the byzantine nature of copyright law, I wasn’t sure whether or not making a complete copy of a text, even if I own it, was entirely legal. So, I asked Corynne McSherry, Intellectual Property Director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, for her opinion. McSherry told me that from what she could see from 1DollarScan’s website, and from what I told her about the e-book creation process, it all appeared to be on the up-and-up.

“Making a backup for personal use is a classic fair use of a work you own, like backing up your CDs,” said McSherry. She also notes that, even in the recent Redigi case where it was ruled that selling pre-owned digital music files amounted to copyright infringement, everyone involved stayed well away from the argument that backing up your music files to a cyberlocker was infringing.

“Based on the publicly available information, it looks like 1DollarScan is simply facilitating a similar kind of backup — just as the VCR helped folks time-shift in the 80s.” McSherry also mentioned that not everyone shares her point of view that the creation of an e-book from a previously published text qualifies as fair use of copyrighted material.

“Those people,” McSherry explained, “might be inclined to try to put 1DollarScan out of business, either through litigation costs or by convincing a judge to focus on the commerciality of the service activity, rather than the customer’s use. If they succeed, readers who have not yet downloaded their books could become collateral damage — like the lawful MegaUpload users who lost access to their works.”

So, that could suck.

But let’s say you’re willing to gamble that 1DollarScan will still be in business next week (being as it’s been around since 2011, I think it’s a safe bet.) How well does the service work? To find out, I sent in three different books: a full-color graphic novel; a cheap, yellowing paperback novel; and a textbook with mixed text and grayscale images. I signed a contract for each one, jammed them all into a box and shipped them off to be scanned. I received an e-mail notification when the books arrived at 1DollarScan’s offices, and a day later, a second e-mail asking that I log into my account to confirm my order.

In the end, if you’re determined to downsize the heft of your existing collection of books, or can’t find an electronic copy of a book you’re dying to take on the road with you, 1DollarScan is a fantastic option. But due to the large file sizes, occasional legibility issues, fuzzy legality and the fact that the hard copy of the book you send in to be digitized is destroyed in order to create its e-book copy, I can’t recommend the service to everyone.

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