Random House Says Libraries Own Their Ebooks, Really

from the but-what-about-users dept

We've discussed, many, many times, how copyright holders in the digital age like to play fast and loose with the definition of what is "sold" and what is "licensed." Just today, we've seen Amazon wipe out a woman's ebook collection. As we've joked, many copyright holders like to play Schrodinger's download in which they'll argue that it's a license in some cases, and a sale in other, based on what benefits them the most at that instance. So it's a welcome surprise to find out that publishing giant Random House is unequivocal in making the statement that libraries who buy Random House ebooks own those ebooks. Michael Kelley, at the Library Journal, spoke to Skip Dye, Random House's VP of library & academic marketing and sales, and Dye left no doubt about it:
"We spend a lot of time discussing this with librarians, at conferences and elsewhere, and it’s clear that there is still some confusion out there around whether libraries own their ebooks," Dye said. "Random House's often repeated, and always consistent position is this: when libraries buy their RH, Inc. ebooks from authorized library wholesalers, it is our position that they own them."

He went on to make clear the distinction with licensing:

"This is our business model: we sell copies of our ebooks to an approved list of library wholesalers, and those wholesalers are supposed to resell them to libraries. In our view, this purchase constitutes ownership of the book by the library. It is not a license."
Of course, this raises a question: does that also apply to the public? It would seem inconsistent if it were just for libraries. If I buy a Random House ebook, do I "own" it, or have I licensed it? And... then how does that fit with various ebook retailers, such as Amazon, whose terms seem more like a license? Either way, it's good to see a company like Random House take such a clear position on this matter, when most big copyright holders prefer to avoid the question entirely.


Reader Comments (rss)

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  1.  
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    Togashi (profile), Oct 22nd, 2012 @ 10:54am

    From the way they said it, I wouldn't be too surprised if you did own your ebooks... if you bought them from an authorized library wholesaler. Amazon is a retailer, so I'm sure that counts as enough of a difference for it to be a license instead of a sale. Still, it's a nice step in a good direction.

     

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  2.  
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    John Doe, Oct 22nd, 2012 @ 10:56am

    Why the middleman?

    we sell copies of our ebooks to an approved list of library wholesalers, and those wholesalers are supposed to resell them to libraries

    So the publisher is a middleman, then they sell to another middleman who then sells to the library? Why not eliminate the waste and sell directory to the library? Or better yet, why doesn't the author eliminate the waste and sell direct?

     

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  3.  
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    Lord Binky, Oct 22nd, 2012 @ 10:57am

    That's why it costs the library N times more per copy than the retail copies I mean licences.

     

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  4.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 22nd, 2012 @ 10:58am

    Schrodinger's download is exactly why digital sales are going to have a hard time.

    Got to appreciate Random House's stance here of you own what you buy.

     

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  5.  
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    MrWilson, Oct 22nd, 2012 @ 11:06am

    The question is: does Random House then concede that the library has the right of first sale and can sell "used" ebooks to the public? Or donate them to other libraries when their circulation for said ebooks goes down?

     

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  6.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 22nd, 2012 @ 11:09am

    Re:

    I think the better question is, does that mean libraries can loan them out however they want, instead of being limited to X loans at a time, never for more than Y days.

     

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  7.  
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    Michael, Oct 22nd, 2012 @ 11:14am

    What if I don't return it?

    So if I 'forget' to return my eBook to the library and they simply assess me a fee for not returning it, do I actually own it?

    Also, my library frequently gives away old books. Can they sell or give away eBooks when they run low on eShelf space?

     

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  8.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 22nd, 2012 @ 11:20am

    Re: Why the middleman?

    Middlemen are notoriously known for promoting what they are selling/adding. In the case of digital media, it is possible to eliminate at least 3 middlemen in many fields of work. Given the amount of middlemen in the world, it is fair to say that cutting the number of middlemen in half would have severe economic effects on the world. We are seeing some of this effect, but if politicians really opened up, it would make for quite a serious depression.
    True conservatism is applicable: If you cannot keep the world as it is today, change must be slow!

     

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  9.  
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    Gregg, Oct 22nd, 2012 @ 11:30am

    Why are we following Alice down the rabbit hole?

    Why are we following this conversation as if it needs clarification? Possession is 9/10th of the law still! IF I bought it, I own it. If you are debating this concept then you are negotiating with the distributors about what "ownership" means and then opening up the argument to be changed.

    Just respond "No" it's not a license. You sold it, they own it. No discussion.

    It should need no clarification.

     

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  10.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 22nd, 2012 @ 11:45am

    surely, the best way to find out is to ask, isn't it?

     

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  11.  
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    Lord Binky, Oct 22nd, 2012 @ 12:19pm

    Re:

    They can only make copies if it goes through a photocopier first.

     

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  12.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Oct 22nd, 2012 @ 12:49pm

    Re: Why are we following Alice down the rabbit hole?

    Possession is 9/10th of the law


    And it can get you 20 years to life.

     

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  13.  
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    The eejit (profile), Oct 22nd, 2012 @ 12:56pm

    Re: Re:

    AKA a PC.

     

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  14.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 22nd, 2012 @ 1:13pm

    If I buy an ebook from a library, do I own it?

     

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    fb39ca4 (profile), Oct 22nd, 2012 @ 1:16pm

    Re: What if I don't return it?

    Well, you have technically "stolen" it.

     

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  16.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 22nd, 2012 @ 6:45pm

    Careful slicing here. The library owns the "book", but they don't own the content. It's a sly way of explaining the difference.

    The library may own the file, but they don't actually OWN the content.

     

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  17.  
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    Chris Ball (profile), Oct 22nd, 2012 @ 9:25pm

    But what is "ownership"?

    Ever since I took first year property law in law school, I'm wary whenever I hear property rights referred to by a label such as "ownership". Sure, you can call it ownership, but that's just a name. What matters is the underlying rights you have over the thing. "Ownership" means something quite different whether you are talking about a dog, a house, a toothbrush, a driver's license, or a financial instrument. The whole problem with ownership of e-goods is that we don't have a shared understanding of what it is. Calling it "ownership" rather than a license might give some people some ideas about what it entails, but those ideas may or may not be true, and the label doesn't have much to do with it.

     

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  18.  
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    G Thompson (profile), Oct 22nd, 2012 @ 10:21pm

    Re: But what is "ownership"?

    I think Ownership talked about in this context by TD commentators is :
    Complete and full usage with all underlying rights to this usage.

    Whereas I suspect Random House is saying:
    Complete legal usage of the item with us retaining all other intellectual property rights at all times.

    ;)

     

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  19.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 22nd, 2012 @ 10:46pm

    Re: Re: Why the middleman?

    Middlemen are notoriously known for ripping off and exploiting artists.

    There FTFY!

     

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  20.  
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    G Thompson (profile), Oct 22nd, 2012 @ 10:47pm

    Re: Why are we following Alice down the rabbit hole?

    Arghh.. someone else who used the same dumb and WRONG aphorism {"Possession is 9/10th of the law") on the same day..

    here is my answer in the other articles thread
    That aphorism is not a legal concept nor doctrine at law anywhere. In fact it was originally a simplified statement under English common law used to imply that the possessor of an object has the right to control that property without unlawful interference.

    That "unlawful interference" is the MAIN phrase and means that the possessor is assumed to be more likely than not the rightful owner of said product unless it can be shown otherwise by legal means. Either via court (criminal or civil) or reasonableness/obviousness.

    Also one other vein of thought says that the phrase can mean that if you are caught with an object in your possession that can be proven under law not to be owned by you then you are more than 90% likely to be convicted.

     

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  21.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 22nd, 2012 @ 10:50pm

    Re: Re: But what is "ownership"?

    You are correct. They "own" the rights they have purchased (and they may own the media it was delivered on, if it was a CD or usb key, example). But they don't own anything beyond the standard rights.

    Otherwise, the libraries would be free to print and sell the books themselves or sell digital copies at whatever price, including through sites like Amazon. That wouldn't make much sense, would it?

     

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  22.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 25th, 2012 @ 7:07pm

    They Are Lying

    Random House is lying. For libraries to truly own their Ebooks, they would need to also own the copyright monopoly privilege. Copyright is held by Random House and Random House will only ever give it up under two circumstances. (1) Copyright expires. (2) Someone pays them a lot of money to sign over the copyright, in a written contract. Copyright law ensures that the only entity which truly owns a copyright work is the entity which holds the copyright.

    You can "own" something which is public domain, but the only copyright things that you own are those where you hold the copyright. This applies to physical objects as well.

     

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