The Washington Post reports that Amazon is charging their Kindle users for Project Gutenberg editions of classic literature. Project Gutenberg, of course, is famously a free service.

Gutenberg contributor Linda M. Everhart complained in an e-mail in late October that Amazon was selling a title she'd contributed to Gutenberg, Arthur Robert Harding's 1906 opus "Fox Trapping," for $4.

"They took the text version, stripped off the headers and footer containing the license, re-wrapped the sentences, and made the chapter titles bold," wrote Everhart, a Blairstown, Mo., trapper. She added that "their version had all my caption lines, in exactly the same place where I had put them."

In follow-up messages, Everhart pointed to such other instances of Kindle cloning as Eldred Nathaniel Woodcock's "Fifty Years a Hunter and Trapper" (free on Gutenberg, 99 cents on Amazon), John R. Lockard's "Bee Hunting" ($3.69 as a Kindle edition) and Martin Hunter's "Canadian Wilds" ($3.16 from Amazon). These titles appear to be sold with Amazon's standard digital-rights-management restrictions, a limit absent from Gutenberg downloads.

This is legal, but not very ethical. (The news report, by Rob Pegoraro, is also notable because he actually manages to speak to a mythical Amazon spokeswoman. She says she'll forward the complaints to the appropriate department. Then, in a more Amazon-like fashion, she does not reply to repeated follow-up questions. Maybe she was new to the job?) If you own a Kindle, you should be advised to check Project Gutenberg before you buy a book that looks like it might be in the public domain; you could be paying Amazon for no good reason.