The eBook dilemma: copyright, licencing and digital lending in libraries

The eBook dilemma: copyright, licencing and digital lending in libraries

Date workshop: 6.7.2022

Timing workshop: 9:00 – 12:00

Coffee break: 10.15AM

Minimum number of participants: 20

Maximum number of participants: 40

In their daily work, libraries face several legal issues relevant to copyright law, especially in the digital environment. Lending a publication, making a digital copy of it, or simply listing related material online are just a few examples of day-to-day activities that imply to consider, on the one hand, the rights of copyright holders and, on the other hand, the rights to access and use such works by the public.

The digital aspects of lending, eBooks, also present an interesting dilemma not only when it comes to copyright issues, but where the agency of libraries is concerned. As eBooks are not sold but licensed, publishers not libraries choose what titles can be acquired, how long they can form part of the collection and the terms under which they can be lent out to students and researchers. These issues as well as high prices, bundling of titles and the requirement to buy the same title repeatedly, all challenge the notion of what it means to be a library.

This workshop, designed jointly by the reCreating Europe and Knowledge Rights 21 projects, is designed to share findings and observations on the topic of copyright and eBooks. The first part of the workshop, led by the researchers of Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies (Pisa, Italy), partner of the EU funded project reCreating Europe, aims to briefly illustrate the copyright framework that is relevant to libraries and users, with a specific focus on EU and national copyright rules concerning public lending and the preservation of cultural heritage, and prepare the audience for the second part of the workshop. The second part of the workshop will be lead by Knowledge Rights 21 and will focus on the issues that face educational libraries regarding eBooks, and what can be done about it.

The first presentation reflects on the comprehensive dataset compiled and analyzed by the Horizon 2020 project, reCreating Europe. Therefore, it initiates with a brief overview of the project, by explaining its main aims and objectives as well as the research conducted by Work Package 2, led by Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies (Pisa, Italy).

To set the scene for a fruitful discussion on the interim results of WP2 as well as on the interplay of eBooks with copyright law, the presentation first provides an insight into the notion of ‘copyright’, also by offering a snapshot of the origins of modern copyright, which stemmed from and evolved around printing culture.

Shedding light upon the functions of copyright to promote and copyright exceptions to facilitate access to culture and knowledge – both of which remained the same during the shift from analogue times to the digital era – the presentation mainly concentrates on the EU regulatory framework governing the practices of cultural heritage institutions, including those of libraries. It focuses specifically on the copyright exceptions concerning public lending and preservation of cultural heritage, while providing insights to the level of harmonization of such rules in the EU Member States. It ends with a brief analysis on what else has to be done, particularly to adapt the EU copyright law to needs of the digital era and the EU’s digital agenda.

This second session will after a short introduction of the Arcadia funded Knowledge Rights 21 project, focus on the issues being faced by research libraries in regards to eBooks. eBooks are undermining the centuries old function of libraries to acquire, lend and undertake collection development. If libraries are not free to select and maintain their own collections, this ultimately undermines not only research, health care and scientific progress, but it diminishes the lives of the millions of Europeans who are reliant on public libraries. Whereas the issue of unsustainably high prices of eBooks have hit the headlines, the issues go far deeper than this. As publishers have sought to replace copyright law with licences, libraries have as a result lost their right to buy books, maintain their collections, and even undertake basic library functions such preservation and lending books between libraries. Issues such as publishers refusing to license, unsustainable prices many times higher than the equivalent paper book or CD, bundling, titles not available digitally and even loss of collection items purchased are not uncommon.

Whereas in some academic sectors the solution to these problems is open access, in order to protect citizens free access to education and knowledge, we also need systemic legal solutions. Reflecting the landmark 2016 Dutch case Vereniging Openbare Bibliotheken v Stichting Leenrecht on option is copyright reform.

This session intends to be interactive, having outlined the issues faced by libraries participants will be encouraged to break into groups to discuss the issues, and provide evidence where they have it to contribute to the development of the workshop.

Suggested Reading:

Knowledge Rights 21 eBook Position Statement



52nd LIBER Annual Conference