It appears that 2016 is going to be the year of copyright reform—or at least, more of it than we’ve had in recent years. The latest section of the copyright code to come under the Copyright Office’s eye (PDF) is Section 108, which deals with special rights libraries and archives have to copy and distribute materials. It was intended to apply to both physical and electronic media, but as Bill Rosenblatt points out on the Copyright and Technology blog, it doesn’t cover lending e-books and other digital material all that well.
As demonstrated by that group of Canadian public librarians agitating for pricing reform, e-book lending rights are one of the more contentious issues libraries face these days. In an effort to keep from harming their consumer sales, publishers saddle library e-books with higher-than-consumer prices, limited lending terms, or both—with different terms from each different publisher. Rosenblatt writes:
As long as any of these limitations remain, the odds that all of the major publishers will converge on similar license terms are virtually zero owing to antitrust concerns. Meanwhile, a few public library systems are creating their own e-lending platforms (instead of relying on third parties like OverDrive), and some indie publishers are agreeing to license their titles to these libraries on unlimited bases and at consumer prices.
Libraries want better terms, or even to be able to treat e-books just like print books, but the 1970s-vintage Section 108 doesn’t help, and the last time the Library of Congress looked at reforming it—in 2005—library e-book programs were largely theoretical and nobody could agree on exactly how to treat them. The intervening ten years brought a real consumer e-book market at last, as well as the aforementioned contention between libraries and publishers on how e-books should be treated.
With the benefit of actual experience with the technology on both sides, Rosenblatt hopes that the new investigation into revamping Section 108 will be more fruitful. Libraries and librarians interested in contributing to the discussion should visit the Copyright Office’s Section 108 page to request a meeting about the matter.