Publishers want to make eBooks more expensive and more difficult for libraries to lend; Ron Wyden and Anna Eshoo have questions

of end of ownership department

Techdirt has noted in the past that if public libraries did not exist, the copyright industry would never allow their creation. Editors can’t turn back time to change history (thankfully). But the COVID pandemic, which has largely prevented people from borrowing physical books, has presented publishers with a huge opportunity to make it as difficult as possible for libraries to lend newly popular eBooks to libraries.

A British campaign for fight against this development in the world of academic publishing, called #ebookSOS, spells out the issues. Ebooks are often not available to institutions that can license as ebooks. When offered, they can cost ten times or more the cost of the same paper book. The #ebookSOS campaign has set up a worksheet listing dozens of named examples. A title costs £ 29.99 as a physical book and £ 1,306.32 for a single user eBook license. As if those prices weren’t high enough, it is common for publishers to increase costs without warning and to withdraw e-book licenses that have already been purchased. One of the worst aspects is this:

Publishers are increasingly offering titles through an electronic textbook template, through third-party companies, licensed content for use by specific and very small cohorts of students on an annual basis. Citations for these are typically hundreds if not thousands of times more than a printed title, and this has to be paid for each year for new cohorts of students to gain access. This is exclusive, restricts interdisciplinary research and is not sustainable.

Although #ebookSOS is a UK campaign, the problem is global as publishers try to change the nature of eBook lending everywhere. Ron Wyden and Anna Eshoo have noticed that this is happening in the United States and do not seem impressed with the initiatives of the publishing industry, as letter to the CEO of Penguin Random House (pdf) specifies:

Many libraries face financial and practical challenges in making e-books available to their customers, compromising their ability to fulfill their mission. We understand that these difficulties arise because eBooks are typically offered under more expensive and limited license agreements, unlike printed books which libraries can typically purchase, own, and lend on their own terms. These license agreements, the terms of which are set by individual publishers, often include restrictions on lending, transfer and reproduction, which may conflict with the ability of libraries to lend books, as well as with exceptions. and copyright limitations. Under these provisions, libraries are forced to rent books through very restrictive agreements that resemble leases.

The letter asks for answers to nine detailed questions about restrictions on the use of eBooks, the price of physical and digital books, as well as information on legal actions that have been taken in response to things like withdrawals. multiples of digital texts, interlibrary loans, controlled digital loans, and institutions making digital copies of physical books they own.

This is an extremely important battle, as it is clear that the publishing world sees it as a unique chance to redefine what libraries can do with eBooks. This is part of the much larger and very disturbing trend of turning everyone into tenants and causing ownership to end.

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Filed under: anna eshoo, e-books, libraries, publishers, ron wyden



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