A Position Statement from Knowledge Rights 21 on eBooks and eLending

17 May 2022

In conjunction with our first webinar The empty library: The urgency of solutions to unsustainable eBook Markets (May 19th 14:00 CET), Knowledge Rights 21 is proud to announce that it is launching its position statement on 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 for access to education and cultural participation.

In the past few years, the issue of unsustainably high prices of eBooks has hit the headlines, but the issues go far deeper than this. 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. 

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 Court of Justice of the European Union case Vereniging Openbare Bibliotheken v Stichting Leenrecht, Knowledge Rights 21 is advocating a return to the status quo of library lending that has served our institutions and their users well for years.

This would mean that as with paper books, libraries should have the right in law to acquire or create any eBook  and loan it in line with the number of copies it has purchased. This return to the traditional norms of library lending will also guarantee authors in Europe public lending right payments, as is the case with physical books lent in line with the protections provided under copyright law, rather than of unequal licence agreements.*

Crucially, this is not a question that can be left to the market alone. European governments and the European Union need to recognise as a matter of public policy that libraries have no choice but to provide access to books for their users in order to fulfil their mandates.

In concrete terms, national governments need to review existing library laws, and the European Union should update the Rental and Lending Directive in line with Vereniging Openbare Bibliotheken v Stichting Leenrecht.

In this way, it is possible to reverse the trend of licensed-based eBooks undermining citizens’ and researchers’ access to information, and to reaffirm the status quo that has served libraries and users so well. We look forward to working with you all to ensure that libraries can once again continue to function and serve the public as they have done for millenia.

Download the KR21 position statement on eBooks and eLending!

Any questions on this statement from libraries, policy makers or anyone else should be addressed to info@knowledgerights21.org.

* See: https://www.ereaders.nl/auteurs-verdienen-weinig-aan-uitlening-e-books-en-abonnementsdiensten/

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