Ebook pledge aims to protect libraries and authors from publishers’ growing abuse of copyright

There’s a whole chapter of Walled Culture the book (free digital versions available) devoted to the serious attack on libraries and their traditional functions that is being carried out by major publishers. The latter are using digital copyright law to take advantage of the shift to ebooks by moving from one-off sales to a recurrent licensing model. The Knowledge Rights 21 (KR21) group are also concerned by what is happening here:

As publishers have moved away from selling physical works outright to offering licences for access, exceptions and limitations in copyright law risk being overridden by licence terms.

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 offer licenses, unsustainable prices many times higher than the that for the equivalent paper book or CD, titles not available digitally, and even loss of collection items purchased are not uncommon.

In order to combat this loss and protect libraries, KR21 has drawn up an ebook pledge:

calling on publishers to sign up and adopt a set of principles laid out therein, while of course continuing to support more user-friendly models, including open eBooks. We also call on libraries and consortia to adopt the eBook pledge principles when negotiating with publishers. By making these principles part of the agreements they sign, including the rights to acquire titles, engage in collection development, preserve collections, and lend to the public and other libraries, libraries can continue to be beacons for the dissemination of knowledge in the 21st Century.

The pledge itself consists of twelve elements, including:

To make all eBooks available to libraries to preserve and to lend to the public directly or via inter-library loan, as soon as they are available to the public.

To make all eBooks individually purchasable by libraries outside of bundles.

To offer pricing for the Digital File on a “one copy one user” basis that is the same or similar to the price of the paper copy of the book, where available.

To allow all registered users of the library to access eBooks onsite and off.

To not withdraw titles during the subscription period, and with at least 12 months prior notice to both libraries and authors, unless required due to an unforeseen legal reason.

To provide authors with appropriate remuneration for the lending of their works by libraries.

The last of these brings up an important point that I’ve not seen discussed elsewhere. Along with all the serious problems that many publishers are creating for libraries with the shift to ebooks, it turns out that authors too are suffering. As KR21 writes:

according to one study, many European authors of fiction and other trade titles are not paid royalties by their publishers for the licences sold to libraries.

Authors already get a pretty raw deal from publishers, and it’s unacceptable that the rise of ebooks seems to be exacerbating that. Any publisher that values authors and regards itself as helping to nurture culture, rather than simply feeding off it, should be signing up to the new Library eBook Pledge. Sadly, at the time of writing, few have.

Feature image by Knowledge Rights 21.

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