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Kobo Says You’re Not Allowed to Share Your Account – Not With a Spouse, Your Kids, Anyone

When it comes to ebooks there is often a difference between ownership of an account at an ebookstore and using it. We have all long winked at the idea that a single account might be shared between several members of a household, but in light of yesterday’s news about Amazon killing an account over violations of their policy this topic deserves a deeper look.

Amazon closed that Kindle account in a manner which was a complete cock-up but technically correct under their rules and procedures. As some Amazon drone saw it, that Kindle owner had violated a rule which necessitated the Kindle owner being cut off from her ebooks.

Luckily this closure was later reversed (thanks to the public outcry and general stupidity of the decision). And as terrible as that was, there was  a lesson in this. If we’re going to be subject to the whims of CS drones don’t you think we should know the specifics of the rules?

This brings me to Kobo. Paul Durrant, a fellow ebook enthusiast whom I know through MobileRead Forums, decided last week to push Kobo to explain the specific details of the T&C we all agree to.

Kobo’s contract with users is fairly standard boilerplate, and there was one particular clause which  says that a "Registered Users" cannot share the ebooks, yada, yada, yada. It’s boilerplate, but if you cannot guess what it says click on the link above.

The thing is, the only person who is  "Registered Users" is the one whose name is on the account. So naturally this raises questions about whether someone’s spouse can use the account. Now that is an interesting question, isn’t it?

A straightforward reading of the T&C says that you cannot share an account between several people, something which is quite common.

Paul wanted to know if that was really what Kobo meant to disallow when they wrote the contract. And after he sent several emails and received 2 irrelevant replies, this was what he was told:

Legally, only the account holder has license to use the material.

That’s a very interesting answer, because it means that there are potentially millions of Kobo users currently in violation of Kobo’s T&C. They are all at risk of having their account closed and losing access to their ebooks.

But what’s even more interesting is that apparently Kobo expects you to buy a separate copy of an ebook for each person in your household who want to read it!

Heck, that’s something I didn’t even do for paper books, and it’s certainly not something I’m going to start doing for ebooks. And while I’m sure it’s some publishers wishing for this more than Kobo, this still came from Kobo customer service and the Kobo T&C.

It’s Kobo’s CS dept that expects you to buy multiple copies of an ebook. To be honest this almost feels like something out of The Right to Read (by Richard Stallman):

For Dan Halbert, the road to Tycho began in college—when Lissa Lenz asked to borrow his computer. Hers had broken down, and unless she could borrow another, she would fail her midterm project. There was no one she dared ask, except Dan.

This put Dan in a dilemma. He had to help her—but if he lent her his computer, she might read his books. Aside from the fact that you could go to prison for many years for letting someone else read your books, the very idea shocked him at first. Like everyone, he had been taught since elementary school that sharing books was nasty and wrong—something that only pirates would do.

Kobo fits right in, don’t they?

I suppose Kobo is going to revise their T&C, but as it stands many people are currently in violation. They are at risk of losing everything they bought in the Kobo ebookstore (another argument in favor of removing DRM).

But the question I find most interesting is this: Why was that clause in the T&C? It goes against how we all know that paper books are used, so it should be pretty obvious that ebooks would be used in a similar manner.

Don’t you wish Kobo had thought about the terms of the contract before writing the boilerplate?

I do.

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Tyler October 23, 2012 um 12:45 pm

That way two members of one household can pay different amounts for the same book.

Alexander Inglis October 23, 2012 um 12:48 pm

Controversy for the sake of controversy?

Kindle, Kobo and no doubt all other commercial ebook sellers are offering you a license to the content assigned to the buyer (technically the buyer’s account). No where does it say you have the right to hand over the content to dozens of others (or even one other). But you are allowed to put the content on multiple devices for your enjoyment. How you use those devices is up to you: including loading up a second licensed e-reader with your account content and then loaning that device to your spouse or neighbour.

Follow these simple rules and everyone stays in compliance. Nothing has changed.

Nate Hoffelder October 23, 2012 um 1:02 pm

Except that a contract is a contract is a contract. If Kobo is fine with what you describe then they should write that into the T&C and tell their CS dept.

Mike Cane October 28, 2012 um 1:45 pm

Except Steve Haber of Sony once spoke glowingly in a Sony podcast about how a mother and daughter shared ONE Sony Reader account — and they lived across the country from one another. And he had ZERO problems with that.

Eric Welch October 23, 2012 um 1:45 pm

I remember being at a demo of Adobe Digital rebook reader when it was first released many years ago. The rep went through the license agreement with some care and pointed out that under the rules, it was forbidden for anyone to read over your shoulder. That’s just how silly some of these guys are.

Vonda Z October 23, 2012 um 2:44 pm

If that is true, then why are they selling children’s book on the Kobo, as a Registered user in their terms of use agreement is defined as such:

"If you are a Registered User then you agree to the following:

(i) in consideration of your use of the Service, you represent that you are of the age of majority in the jurisdiction in which you reside, or 13 years old or older up to the age of majority in the jurisdiction in which you reside with the express written consent of your parent or legal guardian . . . ." (

Thus, it would be against the terms of use agreement for anyone under the age of 13 to read a book on the Kobo.

I wonder who they think is reading any of there nearly 3,000 illustrated for kids books that they sell:

Fbone October 23, 2012 um 2:54 pm

I received the same response from Smashwords. And Fictionwise has the same T&C.

If your spouse also wants to read the ebook, they need to purchase their own copy unless they borrow your ereading device.

Nate Hoffelder October 23, 2012 um 5:11 pm

Smashwords sells DRM free ebooks, so if you’re cut off you won’t be harmed all that much. And Fictionwise is so tiny they are irrelevant.

The Rodent October 23, 2012 um 4:19 pm

This kind of legal lunacy makes me want to air-drop e-books over America to help free the people from the tyranny of their nutty lawyers…

Puzzled October 23, 2012 um 4:32 pm

Is it April Fools Day?

Anna Maguire October 24, 2012 um 4:46 am

Gosh, so crazy. Nate, loved your link to The Right to Read. What a brilliant and far sighted piece of writing!

Kobo Says You’re Not Allowed to Share Your Account – Not With a Spouse, Your Kids, Anyone | The Passive Voice October 24, 2012 um 8:01 am

[…] more than Kobo, this still came from Kobo customer service and the Kobo T&C.Link to the rest at The Digital Reader and thanks to Eric for the tip.Tech companies typically don’t think about their Terms and […]

Elf October 25, 2012 um 12:00 am

Amazon has the same thing in its TOS. So does B&N. All of the ebook stores do. All of them say that only the account owner has the right to access the ebooks–with the thin exception of Amazon and B&N’s limited loaner program.

I have no idea what they expect is being done with children’s books.

(And gee, the publishing industry wonders why the YA market for ebook sucks. Could it be that… KIDS CAN’T BUY EBOOKS? They’re not the account holders and don’t have credit cards.)

The official answer is, and has been, only the account holder can read the book–it’s against the TOS to hand your ereader to a friend, or your spouse, and let them read the same book. It’s not against copyright law, but it’s against the user agreement at the site.

This, of course, directly contradicts Amazon’s frequent advice that spouses both share an account, and the advice they give for having relatives sign up on the same account. That advice is in the forums, not the TOS page; it’s unofficial. They *like* the arrangement that millions of people are technically breaking the rules and can be shut off at any time–for using ebooks the way books have been used for centuries.

Nate Hoffelder October 25, 2012 um 12:10 am

No, Amazon does not have this exact same language in their T&C. Theirs is much less strict. Also, if you head over to MR you will see the response they sent to Paul. It is very different from Kobo’s response.

Elf October 25, 2012 um 12:36 pm

Amazon’s TOS does have the ubiquitous "personal noncommercial use" phrase, with neither of those terms defined.

Fascinating stuff; I’d missed that he’d gotten an answer from Amazon. Amazon says

Therefore, you can buy one copy of a book and have it available to be read on up to six devices (if it is a paid book) and up to 99 devices if it is a free book.

In terms of use, you have purchase a copy of a book with us, and it is your copy. You may authorize any one you wish to read it, but that person’s device must be registered to your account to do so.

So, here they’re using language that contradicts the "license to use" claim–they say "it is your copy," not "you are authorized to use the content." (Also, does this mean that books that are temporarily free are allowed to be installed on 99 devices, regardless of DRM issues?)

They dodged the question of "are there limits on the number of people to whom I may loan my device?" although the answer does imply that they’re not interested in controlling access to the text itself, only to the number/type of devices that can acquire the text.

Rainne October 25, 2012 um 1:25 am

This, people, is why paper books are still best.

taming October 25, 2012 um 9:40 am

Alexander is correct.

I am quite sure that there are very few (if any) people who on there own, with no other people using the books in their account, own enough devices to reach the Kobo limit. Will Kobo come out and say we can share our accounts? Of course not. It opens all sorts of issues: if we can share with our spouses, can we share with our live-in partners? If we can share with our kids, do they have to live with us, or is there an age limit?

I own several devices. My husband uses one of them. My son uses another. I have a Glo, a touch, and also read on my tablet. It’s all good.

Nate Hoffelder October 25, 2012 um 9:51 am

Amazon came out and said we can share accounts.

fjtorres October 25, 2012 um 10:15 am

More, since Kindle "devices" includes apps that can be activated and deactivated, you can temporarily enable a friend’s tablet, PC, or cellphone to access your account and your whole library. As long as you trust them not to go crazy spending your money. 🙂
Basically, Kindle accounts are *all* "family" accounts whereas Kobo accounts are *legally-speaking* individual accounts.
In real word terms, you can do more or less the same thing with your Kobo account as with Amazon but you would be *technically* violating the termss of service. Whether Kobo or (more likely) a publisher would squawk is a whole different story.

Jr June 30, 2013 um 11:36 pm

In reply to the main article, you said "But what’s even more interesting is that apparently Kobo expects you to buy a separate copy of an ebook for each person in your household who want to read it!
Heck, that’s something I didn’ even do for paper books, and it’s certainly not something I’m going to start doing for ebooks. "
And I believe that is something you did not do with Paperback books. You probably read the book and passed it on to the next person. If you go to Amazon or another big company, eBooks use to be a cheaper way to get a book for you and a cheaper way to sell books and make the same or more amount of profit. I went on amazon to look at a four book set (Paperback) $19.79 eBook $69.99, if you go to books On Board, they are shuting down their site and re-structuring. keeping Amazon and others out of their new site when it opens. because many people lost their books and are going to lose their accounts in two days IF YOU WANT TO KEEP YOUR BOOKS DOWNLOAD CALIBRE quote from "Many of our customers are using Calibre or other tools to strip DRM from their downloaded eBooks in order to have them available indefinitely should they change reading devices. This is apparently being done for their personal use and convenience, not for piracy. We are told this is in the spirit of the eBook license and that it is common practice.
We continue to attempt to re-structure to compete more effectively against Goliaths who have entered our marketplace since we first launched in 2006, i.e., Amazon, Apple, Google, Sony and Barnes & Noble.
Thank you for your support of our store over the last seven years during which we have pioneered many innovations with our customers, including the first eBooks for sale on the iPhone. We look forward to serving you again with an exciting new approach soon."

Roger November 12, 2013 um 7:59 pm


I baught a kobo reader original from a person . It was used. The reason that i baught it , is because it had around 200 books on it. When I tried to add books to it using my email address Kobo removed all 200 books from the Kobo. I felt as if kobo had robbed me.
Someone baught and paid for those books. Then they decided to sell the Kobo to me.
I baught it in good faith because it was a good deal. As it stand, I do not know what to do.
I was going to buy the Kobo ACR7 HD. However, now that i know how kobo treat it’s customer, I have changed my mind. I might just throw out this old Kobo and treat it as a bad experience….Roger

Susan Herlihy April 15, 2014 um 8:46 am


You make an interesting point about being the owner of a book to pass around to others once read. We as a library service are considering applying for external funding to pilot using Kobos or similar devices to use for our reader groups. If we purchased 20 kobos and then 20 copies of one book could only the registered user read the books? We must get this right as a public service but it seems as though they spent all their time on making money and not the users rights.

Tom December 11, 2014 um 6:51 pm

The bit about kids not being able to be customers because of the way they talk about accounts and account holders versus readers is absolutely crazed.

If someone addressed the CEOs of these companies and said "Do you mean only the registered user can read what’s on the device?" and then pointed out no adult would be able to share childrens books and their child couldn’t buy any because of the minimum age 13 limit, so then asked "Are you only selling these to people who plan to break your rules? Does that make any sense?" What reply could they make?

This isn’t just idiotic under the surface….it’s idiotic entirely and from the start in the most obvious way. Any human with a half functional brain would recognize the stupidity of the contradictory nature of their current operations.

And then they wonder why people buy Calibre, rip the DRM off, and have DRM free ebooks they can load on any reader and share with family members (just like you could with a real paper book).

Frankly, most of my books were paperback novels. The novelist should get at least as much out of an ebook as they did out of a novel since price points were similar. I could loan that paper book to anyone and nobody could object. Why now are they trying to roll back that capability? (Oh, I know why and it rhymes with "reedy grass birds").

I’m happy with the novelist getting his or her money (I want them to get more of the purchase price and less going to media houses and publishers). I’m going to support authors I like because I want them to keep writing. So do most people.

The biggest point here is:

IF the system is inherently and obviously broken and will turn reasonable sharing within a family into illegality
IF the system is selling books (to its profit) that technically its audience (kids) can’t ever read or own license to
They aren’t willing to fix where it is broken or even acknowledge their approach is ridiculous and greed-oriented
INEVITABLY they will create a culture where piracy is seen as the little guy sticking up for his own – Robin Hood if you will. TO WIT
Their dumb policies and operating methods are DRIVING the piracy and the sense of customer disaffection that leads to people giving up on their products and ripping the DRM off their files.

The publishers and sellers seem largely complicit in creating an environment where their customers will despise them and go to some lengths to ignore their rules and free the information.

The stupidity doesn’t end there because IT DIDN’T HAVE TO BE LIKE THIS.

Don’t buy DRM encrusted books. Don’t deal with these companies. Tell them why you aren’t dealing with them (and I don’t mean CS people, I mean their execs). That’s the only way it will change – if you hit them in the wallet.

Baz Ramsbottom January 31, 2015 um 5:00 am

I cannot sign into Kobo, I keep getting a prompt "YOU ALREADY HAVE AND ACCOUNT" when I attempt to sign in

I have also deleted details from my wife’s account.
We have always had 2 separate accounts with individual mail accounts

but neither of us are able to sign in – we used to sign in via facebook so I even disabled the facebook accounts and changed passwords "still the same prompt"


BUT NEITHER OF US ARE ABLE TO DO SO, we both registered in late December 2014 and everything was fine.

Thank you

Nate Hoffelder, The Digital Reader January 31, 2015 um 8:23 am

That’s weird.

I would normally ask you to double check and make sure you’re on the right page on the Kobo website, but it sounds like you already were on the log in page.

Brenda M July 4, 2015 um 11:03 pm

I read to my spouse from my enooks. Is that illegal to do? Sharing books is a long time practice. Along with trading books with others. If something is a long term practice which has been accepted by society in regards to exchanging and trading books, shouldn’t ebooks be the same if one had paid for the book? If I pay for a book, paperback or hardcover, don’t I own that book? If I want to give I it to someone else to read I can do so. The book belongs to me to do with it as I want. Sell it, give it away or lend it to someone to read. Shouldn' t ebooks be the same so long as it is on my device and not electronically transferred?

Strumund Drang July 5, 2015 um 8:17 am

I share your sentiments, Brenda. It’s our right. But, the media moguls want to take that right from us, and they’ve lined the pockets of our congressmen. It’s a long sad story. It’s our right. But, it’s a right we may have to fight for. Remember this when you vote, buy, or watch a commercially delivered show.

Strumund Drang July 5, 2015 um 8:20 am

I wanted to separate this post from my reply to Brenda. Remember folks, Piracy is not a victimless crime. When your political leaders (I said "congressmen" before, I know many are not Americans.) when your leaders steal your public domain and give it to companies like Disney, YOU are the victim.

Sander October 17, 2017 um 4:52 am

I think it’s important to realize that it’s not the manufacturer of the ereader device which puts these rules in place, it’s the "owner of the content" (i.e., the publisher).
With paper books, there are two things which make "sharing" not so bad: One is that only one person can own a physical copy of a book at any one time. Once I pass it on to someone else, I don’t have it myself anymore. The second is that physical books "deteriorate" when you read them (if only slightly) and people are willing to spend extra money for a pristine copy.
Put yourself in the shoes of a publisher (or author). You spend a year writing a book (in the case of the author) and quite some energy in publishing it (proofreading, making a nice cover picture, doing marketing and creating awareness of the book). Then *one* person buys it, and subsequently "shares" pristine, digital copies with everyone else. This is *the* issue with digital media (software, books, audio, movies). We, the consumers, have responded to this en masse by saying "not our problem". Therefore, publishers tell manufacturers of ereaders "Make sure that a copy of a book can only be read on ONE device. Or else, you won’t get access to our content." Of course, this causes the problem of "sharing with family", and the content owners have responded en masse in their turn by saying "not our problem."
Very big companies like Apple can go and stand on the side of their customers and say "We will allow "family sharing" by allowing up to 5 people to access the same content on their devices." Apple is so big that content owners are hesitant to tell them "no, you won’t get our content." And even there, you can count on it that the negotiations have been fierce. But a small ereader manufacturer? Content owners know very well that an ereader is nothing without the content, so they have quite a good position during the negotiations.
This is a difficult situation where the interests of publishers, customers, and equipment manufacturers are not aligned at all.
I personally think that this "share with 5 people" is reasonable, especially now that Apple has already "broken the ice". But again, it’s up to the content owners to agree to this, and up to the equipment manufacturers to implement this sharing feature in a way which the content owners trust (i.e., which is not easily circumvented).

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