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Librarians and legislators fight to improve access to e-books

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Librarians and their legislatures are pressing e-book publishers to lower prices and loosen licensing requirements. This could make it easier for millions of library patrons to borrow the increasingly popular digital versions of books.

Proponents say some states’ e-lending laws will allow libraries to offer more digital resources and shorten waiting lists for popular titles. In the long term, it has the potential to strengthen the core mission of libraries in an increasingly digital environment.

Kyle K. Courtney, copyright advisor at Harvard University and founder of the advocacy group Library Futures, said: Please press the invoice. “We’ve dealt with publishers and rights holders for centuries, and none have been as bad as they are now.”

Since the early 2010s, libraries and publishers have clashed over the terms and costs of e-book licenses that grant libraries permission to borrow e-books. Such licenses currently generally expire after a fixed period of time or a fixed number of loans. Libraries also have to pay several times the cover price of the equivalent print edition.

Publishers argue that markup and other restrictions protect authors’ intellectual property rights and incentivize companies to invest in their work. But as the cost of e-book licensing continues to rise, librarians and their advocates in at least nine states are turning to publishers, especially the “Big Five”, who produce the vast majority of consumer books. , seeks a law that mandates the provision of e-books. More “reasonable” license terms.

State legislators have given bipartisan support to such bills, but several measures have failed before states have implemented them. New York Governor Kathy Hochul vetoed the state’s e-book bill in late December, citing copyright issues. In June, a Maryland judge dealt his second blow to the move by ruling that federal law would pre-empt the state’s attempt to regulate e-book licensing.

Librarians and legislators in states such as Maryland, Massachusetts and New York say they are preparing new legislative strategies for next year’s legislative session. The new bill seeks to sidestep obstacles that have prevented legislation in Maryland and New York.

Rising prices, restrictive conditions

The librarian’s latest legislative push comes after two years of flurry of digital loans. According to OverDrive, the largest distributor of digital library content, such checkouts (including e-books, audiobooks and digital magazines) will exceed 500 million in 2021, and from two years ago he increased by 55%.

In response, many US libraries have rapidly expanded their digital collections and shifted spending toward e-books and digital audiobooks. However, libraries rarely “own” e-books. Instead, they license the right to rent them out. This model is more like buying software than shopping at a bookstore.

Under this arrangement, publishers can set expiration dates on e-book licenses, limit the number of times e-books can be borrowed, delay sales to libraries, or deny library access altogether. I can do it. Michele Kimpton, global senior director of the nonprofit library group LYRASIS, says e-book licenses from major publishers now expire after his two years or 26 borrowings, costing between $60 and $80 per license. is common.

In its 2019 testimony to Congress, the American Library Association used 2014 bestsellers to highlight the disparity in e-book prices for consumers and libraries. all invisible light As an example. The consumer paid $12.99 for the digital version, while the library cost him about $52 for two years and about $520 for 20 years.

“E-books used to sit on the library’s digital shelf forever, but now we pay $60 for a title every two years,” says Kimpton. “This is obviously not good for libraries, but that’s where we are right now.”

In addition to straining limited budgets, which have remained largely flat in most places since the early 2000s, librarians say the current licensing model hollows out digital back catalogs and distorts current collections. I’m here. Librarians forced to spend more money on fewer books inevitably turn their attention to new installations of bestsellers, titles by famous authors, and popular series in rural St. Mary’s County, Maryland. Library Director Michael Blackwell said.

This overlooks books by new and emerging authors, mid-list books, and some older books with expired licenses. Regular customers often wait weeks or even months to rent popular titles.

“We believe that many people across the country are disadvantaged,” said Blackwell, who is also leader of the global library federation Leaders First. You don’t have to have a credit card to be

‘Something has to be figured out’

However, regulating e-book licensing has proven difficult. Over the last two years, at least nine states (including Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maryland, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island, and Tennessee) have seen publishers license eBooks to libraries at “reasonable prices.” A bill was considered to make it mandatory to provide In many cases, the word “reasonable” is left to future interpretation.

Last year, Maryland lawmakers unanimously approved an e-books bill that would ban publishers from delaying the sale of e-books to libraries. In New York State, one of her 211 voting members of Congress opposed a bill that would create civil penalties for publishers with licensing terms that unreasonably restrict access to e-books. It was only

The issue is generally nonpartisan, said Alan Inouye, senior director of public policy and government relations at the American Library Association. On the political left, e-book licensing is a matter of fairness and equal access to knowledge. Lawmakers on the right have occasionally framed costly and restrictive licenses as a waste of public money.

But federal law does not allow states to limit the exclusive rights of copyright owners, said the director of the Art and Entertainment Advocacy Clinic at George Mason University’s Antonin Scalia Law School. Publishers have “total freedom” to set different prices and terms for different markets, allowing them to experiment with the market and “be more granular and meet consumer demand,” said Sandra Eisters. She added that she could.

Publishers and their advocates also argue that the industry can reasonably distinguish between libraries and consumers because libraries and consumers buy different products. Consumers buy access to e-books individually, while libraries buy the right to distribute e-books to the public.

Last December in New York State, Ho Chul vetoed an e-book bill after heavy lobbying from the arts and entertainment industry. She pointed out that federal copyright law gives authors exclusive control over how their work is shared. That same month, the Publishers Association of America filed a lawsuit against Maryland’s e-book law for similar reasons. We have ruled that we are ahead of the regulations.

“Libraries, as authorized distributors, are an important part of the copyright ecosystem,” said Terrence Hart, general counsel for the Publishers Association of America, in a statement. “When the state destroys the incentives and protections of authors to license and exploit exclusive rights in their works, they have nothing to distribute.”

Supporters and legislators in several states now say they are preparing to introduce revised e-book bills that can withstand legal scrutiny. , claims states can regulate the terms of e-books under contract and consumer protection laws.

Massachusetts lawmakers are already working with Library Futures to amend the e-book bill, said Democrat Rep. Ruth Balther, who co-hosted an earlier version last year. The bill did not pass the commission, Balther said. Legislators initially wanted to see how the Publishers Association lawsuit would play out in Maryland.

Meanwhile, proponents in Maryland are preparing a bill to ban public libraries from engaging in “unfair” contracts, which could cut large publishers out of the state’s library market.

New York legislators and library groups have also begun discussing how the bill Ho-Chol rejected could be “tweaked,” said state legislator Josh Jensen, a Republican co-sponsor of New York’s failed e-book bill. As a teenager, Jensen had a job rearranging books on shelves at the local library.

Jensen said of the governor’s veto, “I was clearly annoyed.” It’s just saying that there needs to be a lot of it, and it’s a very common-sense argument.”