This is undoubtedly a bug, one discovered quite accidentally; the accuracy of this information may be time-sensitive, so standard disclaimers apply. Nevertheless, it is currently possible to borrow a Kindle-formatted ebook from your public library indefinitely. I am not advocating that you do this; I am merely reporting the what and how.
If you’re just interested in the method, here’s a quick summary: On an iPad (this isn’t verified on any other device), check out the ebook like normal, but then keep the Kindle app from syncing with Amazon, which apparently prevents a license check.
For those of you interested in the substance, keep reading.
Back in September of 2011, Amazon launched a partnership with over 11,000 public libraries in the United States to allow lending of Kindle-formatted ebooks. Anyone with a Kindle (device, desktop or mobile app) and access to a participating library can currently borrow Kindle-formatted ebooks from their public library.
Here’s the way it’s supposed to work. You login to your public library’s ebook site, find a book you want to borrow, and choose the Kindle version. Checkout, and then you get the download link, which should take you to a special Amazon page specifying where to deliver the item. Since I have an iPad, I chose to deliver the item to my iPad. The next time you open the Kindle app on the iPad, you will see the item in your archive. Accessing it then downloads it to the device. Once the lending period expires, the book is rendered unavailable, and Amazon replaces it with a message suggesting that you buy the book. The app detects this by performing a license check and measuring it against the date. If today’s date is greater than the expiration date, then the loan has expired. Simple, right?
In what must be either an oversight (deliberate or not) on Amazon’s part or a technical limitation, the license check requires communication with Amazon’s servers. This means one can, by keeping the device disconnected before and during any use of the Kindle app, retain a copy of the book indefinitely.
I only discovered this because my iPad spends a good deal of time disconnected from available WiFi. Since it’s WiFi only, that means it really only has access to a connection when I’m at home. When I opened the Kindle app recently, I discovered that it was at the place I had left off when my loan expired on the book it was displaying (the book is over 1000 pages, so I didn’t quite finish it in time). Because I was outside of a WiFi network, the app was unable to sync with Amazon, and I found out that the book continued to function as if I had purchased it.
I am able to maintain the copy now by ensuring that, when I do choose to connect the device, the Kindle app is not running, even in the background. On an iPad, in case you aren’t aware, this is accomplished by double-tapping the Home button and holding your finger on the Kindle app, then tapping the red X. If the app isn’t running, presumably it’s unable to initiate communications to Amazon. So far this has worked, but it may not be necessary (any takers?).
To be fair, I am not sure how a license check should be accomplished. On the one hand, you can’t ever trust the system clock on a WiFi only iPad, because it’s trivial to change the date and time. But on the other hand, making the license check require an Internet connection also seems shortsighted. I have no proposed solution.
I have included, in Figure A and Figure B, screenshots that should help verify what I am seeing. Note in Figure A the expiration date of the book in question. Also note the title, Reamde: A Novel, by Neal Stephenson. In Figure B, note that the title is the same, and that I have the iPad in airplane mode.
As you might understand from this, keeping a borrowed book past its due date places limitations on your use of the device. The most significant is that you can’t really buy or check out any additional Kindle-format ebooks on that device. However, you can always try the other formats that might be available at your library, namely Overdrive.
The other limitation, which isn’t really that bad, is that you have an incentive to keep your device disconnected. There are lots of things you can do with, for instance, a disconnected iPad, but there are also lots of things you can’t do. My recommendation is to keep the device in airplane mode while you are using the Kindle app, then completely kill the Kindle app before restoring normal connections. This is actually not that painful.
So again, I’m sure this is a bug, and I doubt Amazon will sit still on this. If they aren’t already aware of it, eventually it will come to their attention. I find it unlikely that libraries would have agreed to participate if they’d known about this. Then again, the limitations listed above may be sufficient annoyance and make the overall volume of books held like this low enough to be minimally tolerable. Who knows? But for now, this is an easy way, without any jailbreaking, hacking, or questionable bits of software, to hold on to a Kindle ebook you borrowed from a public library beyond its due date.
If anyone has similar experiences to share, especially on other devices, including the WiFi only Kindles, I am very interested.