Late last week, at the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP), 2010 Public Library Authorities Conference in Leeds, UK, the Publishers Association announced an agreed position on eBook lending in library facilities only, not from off premises. Faber CEO Stephen Page announced the new guidelines October 21st by saying that;
… “all the major trade publishers have agreed to work with aggregators to make it possible for libraries to offer e-book lending” with the addition of certain “controls”. He said the guidelines had been developed because of concerns over free e-book lending offered by some libraries to lenders “wherever you are” in breach of publisher contracts.
The Overdrive library e-book lending system widely used by UK libraries currently allows members to download e-books onto their home devices remotely by employing a passcode supplied by the library.
Under the new scheme, library users would have to come onto the library’s physical premises to download an e-book at a computer terminal onto a mobile device, rather than downloading the book remotely. The scheme would also see the fee paid by a library to buy a book covering the right to loan one copy to one individual at any given time, and would require “robust and secure geographical-based membership” in place at the library service doing the lending.
The full article can be read at The Bookseller.Com, but it goes on to state;
So what about lending ebooks? For more than a century the author and publishing communities have been in accord with the library service in allowing books to be borrowed from libraries, forgoing any anxieties about lost sales and supporting the central, civilised notion of universal access to learning. This need not change in the digital world, but lending ebooks is a much more complex subject full of greater jeopardy than the lending of physical books. Authors and publishers are already contending with the new challenge of digital piracy and so embracing ebook lending has been slow as authors and publishers have been cautious. Why? Authors and publishers cannot allow a universe in which ebooks can be accessed remotely for no charge without the strictest controls. To do so could undo the entire market for ebook sales.
Obviously, digital media is being viewed by those who create it as inherently different from print media. We in the US library community are taking advantage of the lack of clarity regarding this issue, as well as any copyright implications, to expand circulation in the name of equal access.
Steve Potash, CEO of OverDrive, was quick to respond the next day by posting to the OverDrive Digital Distribution Blog, and writing “A statement on the Publishers Association’s position on eBook lending”, in which he stated;
OverDrive’s mission has always been to protect publisher and author rights while providing libraries with premium digital content for their collection. Our secure “one-book, one-user” model has served this mission for years. The Publishers Association is responding to a single isolated incident that was acted on within 24 hours of discovery. In addition, our system has established checks to ensure that libraries are providing eBooks only to those customers in their service area. We have always enforced proper geographic restrictions on the eBooks in our catalog, and will continue to provide publishers with a safe and secure method for distributing eBooks to libraries and library customers online.
Public Libraries and OverDrive are trusted, responsible channels and outlets for publishers and authors to promote and provide access to premium copyrighted eBooks.
OverDrive licenses eBooks under a “one-book, one-user” lending model to UK public libraries. When a public library licenses one copy of an eBook title, only one library customer may access the title at any one time. There are no simultaneous checkouts or downloads for this model, and instead access is limited to the number of licenses of an eBook a library has in its collection. At the end of a customer’s limited lending period, the DRM-protected eBook file expires on a library customer’s computer and device. All eBooks are hosted and remain on OverDrive’s secure servers.
This model has successfully worked for years around the world, providing libraries with access to premium content while generating revenue for publishers.
When a new generation of students, children, young adults, and online readers are stimulated to try a legally licensed and purchased eBook from the public library, publishers and authors win.
The UK public libraries serve the most noble and trusted role of providing the opportunity to read, learn, and become part of the consumer market that authors and publishers both seek. As books and reading compete with every other form of media, video, game, and social network experience, the opportunities to place eBook titles in front of potential new readers and customers is an invaluable service.
Equally as obvious, vendors who provide digital media are trying to expand their market share and increase sales – the reason they are in business. We in the US library community are taking advantage of their capitalistic efforts and lack of clarity regarding print vs. digital materials “use” policies to (again) expand circulation in the name of equal access.
Is this opportunistic actions regardless of legal or ethical issues, or simply smart business on the part of libraries confronted with ambiguous “use” policies/licenses, or justified “civil disobedience” (as I recently read one librarian’s justification regarding the Netflix issue)?