Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The library does not own its e-books!

When a library buys a paper book, they have what is called “first sale rights” to the book. That means that they can use the book in any way they like within the limitations of copyright law. They can lend the book as many times as they like, they may sell the book when they are done with it, or they may give the book away. In short, as you would expect, they own the book they have purchased. Conversely, when a library “buys” an e-book, what they are actually paying for is a license to that title with limitations set (and changed without notice) by the title’s publishers and by the content management site (OverDrive). Limitations may include the number of times the title can be checked out before the library has to pay for the book again (renew its license) and how many patrons can download the title at the same time (in essence the number of “copies” the library “owns”) and now, after a drastic move by Penguin Publishers last week that disabled Kindles from downloading library-lent Penguin titles, what devices it will allow to access the title. In short, the library is basically borrowing the rights to the title which can be changed, eliminated, or made more expensive to the library at any time.
You don’t have to be a lawyer to see the many problems with this model. Those problems will continue to plague libraries as they work to build digital collections until the courts settle the policies and laws that govern the e-book lending arena. And don’t hold your breath… it’s not going to be any time soon—we’ll be lucky to see reliable regulation in the next 10 years. Until then, libraries have very little control over the content they purchase, as their e-content collections will be at the mercy of any whim that OverDrive (the virtual landlord of their e-book collection), Amazon, and any publisher may have.
 OverDrive has virtually monopolized the market of providing digital content to libraries. 
What happens when one company monopolizes a market that has little-to-no regulation, of yet?  We all know what happens... they raise rent.  And what happens if that company were to fail?

These are serious, real concerns, which is why we need a large showing at the press conference on Friday morning, January 13. It will be at 9:30am and is scheduled to be held in front of the Main library at 215 N. Wyman St. (Check back with this site to make sure the location has not changed due to the weather.) The posts on this site will become more frequent. Please stay tuned.

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