Do Libraries Need Permission To Lend Out Ebooks?

from the they-shouldn't dept

Reader OG points us to this NY Times article about how libraries are increasingly offering ebooks for download. This, of course, seems like a good idea, and fits in with the purpose of a library, but where the article gets either laughable or head-bangingly annoying is where it starts discussing how publishers have serious problems with this whole concept. Some publishers are refusing to allow libraries to lend out their ebooks...which makes me wonder why the publishers have any say in the matter. Thanks to the right of first sale, a library should be able to lend out an ebook if it's legally purchased it without having to get the publisher's permission.

Furthermore, the rest of the discussion is just silly. There are arguments about how many ebooks can be "checked out" at once or how the DRM works (which blocks the most popular ebook readers from being supported). There's also an issue of publishers charging libraries much higher prices for ebooks, and scoffing at a librarian who suggests that libraries should be allowed to offer as many copies as needed of an ebook to lend at the same time, and just pay the publishers a nominal fee.

It's hard to describe how insane this whole discussion sounds. Here you have a fantastic tool to support a library's main purpose in the world, and we're arguing over what sorts of artificial restrictions to set up to limit that tool from actually being useful? It's as if we discovered a way to make all the food the world ever needed, and we sit around talking about how to make sure that most people don't get fed. It would make me laugh if it weren't so disturbing that people seem to think this is a good thing.

Filed Under: ebooks, lending, libraries, permission, publishers


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  1. icon
    Griff (profile), 17 Oct 2009 @ 8:01am

    Why not lend eBooks ?

    I buy eBooks from eReader.com, and read them on my Palm.
    The file I get is unique to me. The unlock key is basically my credit card details.

    Yes, I could post them on the internet for free illegal download but I'd be also posting my credit card details. I could probably do my immediately family a copy safely, but that's as far as it would go.

    If a library could generate personalised eBooks with similar DRM, there would be no issue with borrowers copying books massively, though possibly an issue with people not deleting them when they are due to return the "loan".
    (I pretty much end up with the eBook forever, if I'm prepared to wind back the clock on my eBook reader).


    It depends of course on there being an eBook reader at the other end that respects/understands the DRM. Until this is universal it means the library supporting a lot of formats but it would only take a single piece of software to achieve that, which, once developed, could be present in every library.

    As far as "how many simultaneous loans can the library make"... Mike seems to confuse the possible with the fair.
    If he thinks libraries should buy one and lend out hundreds at a time (becauwe they can) then he presumably also believes libraries should get them free (almost the same thing) because the publicity is so good for the author.

    But this is not what libraries are for. Libraries are supposed to pay for books and then lend them out. Like Netflix pays for movies it lends out.

    I would expect Netflix to pay more than $10 for a DVD it has the right to lend out 50 times, even though the price for a consumer to buy the DVD might be $10. Their business model expects it. Libraries, of course, are not businesses as such, but that doesn't make authors charities.

    Pissing off authors/publishers by allowing their eBooks to be flagrantly copied is going to set back the progress of the eBook by years.


    (My local library lends CD's but there is a cost per CD in addition to library membership. This is because even though (unlike a book which you read once,) it could be argued that the CD is listened to as a precursor to buying, we in fact all know damn well the CD's are being copied )


    I would not be surprised if there are many authors/publishers who prefer their hardcopy books not to go into libraries. Or at least not while they are still on the best seller lists !

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