About once a year I go to some meeting or another on libraries and eBooks. I nearly always come back from it struck by the tension between libraries, as institutions of stability, and the rapid pace at which technology companies are driving forward eBook technology. This year’s event of that type was the Scottish Library and Information Council’s 13th annual eBook conference. The keynote from Gerald Leitner, chair of the European Bureau of Library, Information and Documentation Associations task force on eBooks was especially interesting to me in introducing the Right to eRead Campaign.
Leitner spoke about the ecosystem around ebooks and libraries and about the uncertainty and instability throughout the system. Can lending libraries compete with commercial lending of eBooks (Amazon kindle unlimited, £6 per month for over half a million titles)? Publishers too are threatened and are fighting, as the spat between Amazon and Hachette shows–and note, it’s not publishers who are driving the change to eBooks, it’s technology companies, notably Amazon and Apple. Libraries are at risk of being the collateral damage in this fight. And where do book lovers fit in, those who as well as reading physical books read ebooks on various mobile devices?
Leitner made the point that consumers and libraries very rarely buy eBooks; you buy a limited license that allows you to download a copy and read it under certain restrictions–and no, like most people I have never bothered to read those restrictions though I am aware of the limit to the devices on which I can read that copy, that I am not allowed to lend it and that Amazon can delete copies remotely (I don’t use Apple products, but I assume they have similar terms). A consequence of this relates to the exhaustion of rights. Under copyright authors have the right to decide whether/how their work is published, and the publishers may have the right to sell books that contain the authors work. But once bought the book becomes the property of the person who bought it; the publishers rights are exhausted, they cannot longer forbid that it be resold or lent. The right to lend and resell is provided by Article 6 of the WIPO Copyright Treaty and the EU Rental and Lending directive (2006/115/EC). Library lending rights are written into statute and accompanied by remuneration for authors. Ebooks, intangible, licensed and not sold, are classed as services by the EU Information and Service Directive (2001/29/EC), and for these there is no exhaustion of rights, no right to resell or lend, and no statutory guarantee that libraries may provide access.
The EBLIDA right to eRead campaign is about trying to secure a right for libraries to provide access to eBooks. The argument is that without this right to access information itself becomes privatised at the cost of an informed democracy. The campaign is asking for a statutory exemption with IP law, or mandatory fair licensing that provides libraries with the right to acquire and a right to lend.