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.