As a rule the major publishers hate library ebooks even more than they hate libraries because they see each library loan as a lost sale. So it should come as no surprise that European publishers are dismayed at yesterday’s ruling about library ebook loans.
As Ars Technica and other sites reported, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) released a ruling yesterday which said that libraries could lend ebooks just like they lend paper books. The ruling concurred with the opinion of
Maciej Szpunar, advocate general to the CJEU, who stated in June that libraries should be able to lend ebooks provided authors are fairly compensated in the same way as for physical books.
You can find the ruling here (PDF).
Needless to say, publishers, or rather, the legacy publishing trade groups, were not pleased with the ruling. Both the UK Publishers Association, and the Federation of European Publishers, have weighed in with expressions of dismay.
Stephen Lotinga, chief executive of the Publishers Association, spewed nonsense about ebooks:
This court decision raises concerns about the implications for the emerging ebooks market. In our view there is a fundamental difference between printed books and ebooks in that digital copies can be copied and borrowed by an unlimited number of readers.
While it’s important that libraries are able to develop and that authors are properly remunerated for public loans, that cannot be at the expense of a functioning digital book market.
The FEP released an official statement yesterday which spread similar FUD by misinterpreting the ruling:
Revenues from sales of physical books and e-books to the market are still the main way the sector is financed, and authors are remunerated. Early experiments of e-lending in the Nordic countries (Denmark and Sweden) and in the Netherlands  have shown that different e-lending models can have a significant impact on the commercial market. Very simply, it is difficult to compete in a market in which virtually the identical product is available for free.
E-books offered for free by libraries might have a particularly heavy impact on smaller language areas, such as Lithuania, Latvia, Slovenia, Romania and others where the national book markets are limited due to small population and multilingual societies, and where currently, the e-book market doesn’t even constitute 1% of the book market.
Hence, the decision of the CJEU comes as a shock for the book publishing community. Today’s assessment runs counter to the letter and spirit of the Public Lending Right Directive and the Infosoc Directive. Both Directives prescribe the need to distinguish clearly between physical and electronic goods and services and to treat them differently.
The reasons for this distinction are evident. “Lending” an e-book is very different from lending a printed book since digital “lending” in fact means copying. One digital copy can for example potentially be “borrowed” by an indefinite number of users, whereas a physical copy can only be borrowed and read by one person at a time, and is subject to a degree of deterioration.
This is nonsense, for two reasons.
For one thing, the ruling said that ebooks had to be limited to “one copy, one user”, so the comparison of ebook and print book lending is simply false.
Furthermore, anyone who claims that ebooks are not “subject to a degree of deterioration” is either being disingenuous or simply does not know what they are talking about.
Library ebooks have DRM, and like any type of digital content ensnared by DRM ebooks can die for no reason.
If the DRM stutters, the ebook dies.
If the DRM servers are turned off, the ebook dies.
If the library stops paying for its servers and they are turned off, the ebook dies.
If the only compatible hardware/software is discontinued, the ebook dies.
eBooks don’t deteriorate? Poppycock.
Go try downloading and reading a DRMed MSReader, Mobipocket, Rocketbook, eBookwise, Data Discman, eReader, or Sony format ebook, and then try telling me that ebooks don’t deteriorate.
The simple fact is paper books have much greater longevity than DRMed ebooks. With proper care a print book can last centuries, and in comparison no DRMed ebook has lasted more than a decade (with few exceptions).
But the FEP won’t admit to that simple fact; instead they want to make it more difficult to borrow library ebooks.
The experience of borrowing an e-book resembles the experience of buying an e-book to a much larger extent than is the case with printed books. It is the role and responsibility of publishers to develop e-lending models in collaboration with libraries that ensure that the incentive for consumers to buy e-books persists, in order for European publishers and retailers to remain in a position to invest in new innovative e-book platforms and third companies’ solutions for the distribution/making available of e-books, to the benefit of authors and consumers.
That is code for imposing artificial restrictions which make library ebooks as unusable as possible and as inaccessible as possible.
I would rather not let them get away with that.
How about you?
image by michael_d_beckwith