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.

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Comments on “Random House Says Libraries Own Their Ebooks, Really”

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John Doe says:

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?

Anonymous Coward says:

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!

Gregg says:

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.

G Thompson (profile) says:

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.

Chris Ball (profile) says:

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.

Anonymous Coward says:

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?

Anonymous Coward says:

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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