Irish Competition Authority Investigating eBook Markets

Photo my Markus Winkler on Unsplash:

According to the Irish Examiner, the Irish Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) has started to examine the restrictive terms applied to the licensing of eBooks in both public and academic libraries. In response, Cathal McCauley (President of LAI) says “The Library Association of Ireland very much welcomes the focus that the CCPC’s involvement can bring to the many issues that Irish libraries face with eBooks. Without some form of intervention by government on this, we fear that the difficult situation around access, pricing and sustainability is only set to get worse.”

As far as Knowledge Rights 21 is aware this is the second European Competition Authority that has looked at the issues libraries face when licensing eBooks.

As outlined in our eBook position statement, as a result of the move away from copyright law regulating eLending towards contracts, we face a situation where it is no longer guaranteed that libraries can fulfil their public interest mission of developing and giving access to their collections. This is because eBooks operate outside of the current copyright law that permits libraries to acquire, lend and preserve physical books.

As eBooks are licensed, publishers can therefore refuse to sell books to libraries outright. 

Furthermore, as the Irish Examiner points out “The Library Association of Ireland has previously warned that libraries here are encountering more and more issues with eBooks including “scandalous” price increases, restrictive licensing terms, and a lack of availability.”

All of this contributes to a situation where  the interests of those who rely on libraries for education, research, and cultural participation are severely hurt. It is for this reason that Knowledge Rights 21 has commissioned two legal studies on eBook  issues from both a copyright and competition law angle (to be published in Spring and late summer 2023 respectively).

As we have written in previous blogs, this problem of eBooks is one being faced not in one or two countries but by libraries globally. Ten years ago the Swedish Library Association highlighted problems with eBooks in their “Say Hello to Your New Librarian Campaign” which was notable for the stern looking publisher that looked out at you from its cover. Through this, it highlighted that without action by governments with regards to eBooks, libraries were limited to acting as little more than a channel to market for publishers (if of course the publishers choose to license via a library, which as highlighted above is not a given). 

More recently in addition to Ireland, the UK #eBOOKSOS campaign has campaigned on the issue. German and US libraries have also pointed out the numerous issues associated with licensed eBook markets, with organisations like Library Futures working with state legislatures to try and guarantee that libraries can continue to acquire and lend books.

At the moment it is unclear what stage the investigations at the Irish Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) have reached. When we learn more we will let you know – watch this space!