szpunarArs Technica UK has an interesting report on an opinion (PDF) issued by Maciej Szpunar, advocate general to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), declaring that e-books should have the same library lending rights as print books. Libraries should be able to lend copies of e-books they own exactly as they do print books, provided that the authors are fairly compensated for this use.

This comes in response to a case brought by an association of Dutch public libraries against an authors’ rights collecting foundation. The libraries use a similar checkout system to that provided by Overdrive to US and Canadian public libraries: a library buys a set number of copies of the e-book, and once lent, each copy of that e-book is no longer available for checkout by other patrons until the current checkout has expired.

A key difference to how the European and US systems work, though, is that in Europe, authors are paid for each time their book is checked out from a library whereas in the US they aren’t. Referring to a 2006 EU directive requiring that authors receive fair remuneration for lending, the opinion notes:

The Advocate General also points out that the main purpose of copyright is to protect the interests of authors. At present, libraries do indeed lend books in electronic form under licensing agreements concluded between libraries and publishers, which is principally of benefit to publishers or other intermediaries in the electronic book trade, whereas no adequate remuneration is received by authors. If, by contrast, digital lending were regarded as coming within the scope of the directive, authors would as a result receive fair remuneration, in addition to that generated by the sale of books and independently of agreements concluded with publishers.

The EU directive doesn’t specifically mention digital lending because e-book lending was still in its infancy at the time.

It isn’t clear what this means for the arrangements publishers make with libraries and library checkout services such as Overdrive. At the moment, the publishers tend to charge considerably more to libraries than they do to consumers who buy their e-books, and often impose a limitation on the number of times an e-book can be checked out. Does this mean they would have to sell e-books to libraries at the same price as they do paper books? Or does it just mean that library e-book checkouts have to compensate the authors, too, which they apparently hadn’t been before?

At any rate, it’s good to see that library e-books are getting some attention in the EU. We’ll have to see what changes come out of this.


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