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. identicon
    Lady Grey, 18 Oct 2009 @ 9:03am

    Re: Library ebooks and locked players

    That is so insightful - NOT. I am a librarian and you, obviously, are not. I was in charge of all electronic media for my library when I was still in IL, and you show the same lack of industry knowledge that most people seem to have about the monolithic entity "e-book".
    Points to consider before you get hung up on the single e-book per locked player concept:
    1) THERE IS NO INDUSTRY STANDARD for format and player. It's not like DVD or even VHS where there is one data type that applies to all physical playback units.
    2) There are MANY different e-book vendor/suppliers each with their own format (see above) that do NOT offer the same materials (specifically). They do overlap in many cases in terms of general subject, but not in specific titles or authors.
    3) Publishers have decided, much in the same way as the other favorite bogeyman on this discussion group - RIAA, to cling to outdated technology in an effort to restrict access to the most popular materials and force the consumer to purchase the material that they wish to read in some fashion that is not conducive to sharing (in any means)
    4) Each provider, sometimes publisher, sometimes third party provider, has their own contract with its own limits that have to be negotiated. E.g., Amazon and Kindle - the Kindle is limited by contract to disallow file sharing. It would be a wonderful e-book lending medium for libraries, - "loan a 'Kindle Collection'." But, with the details of the contract, it's not physically possible. A few libraries have found ways to negotiate around it, but they have given up their collection control in order to do it.
    This is just the barest TIP of a very HUGE iceberg relating to libraries and electronic resources (including e-books) _ pretty much makes the one that sunk the titanic look like an icecube from your freezer). So, hopefully you will think to ask first next time, before assuming that the issue can be dismissed in a sentence or two, and that the professionals involved in the transaction (i.e. the librarians in this case) are stupid and don't have a clue as to what they're doing...
    Thanks,
    Lady Grey, MLIS

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