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.

Knowledge Rights 21’s position statement on eLending aims addresses this crisis, setting out in greater depth the issues faced by libraries – pricing, a shift to licensing, restrictive terms, the simple non-existence of electronic versions – and makes the case for a legal solution which would provide a guarantee to libraries and their users, while incentivising more positive offers. Such a step would complement work to promote open access in many academic sectors.

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 some academic sectors, there is already important work to address these challenges through promoting open access – this should be supported, including through exploring and promoting the potential of secondary publishing rights and rights retention.

Yet elsewhere, and in parrallel, 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.

Download the KR21 position statement on eBooks and eLending!

See our news story at the time of the launch of the statement.

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