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Unfortunate, But Not Surprising: Court Blocks Maryland’s Library eBook Law

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Unfortunate, But Not Surprising: Court Blocks Maryland’s Library eBook Law

Yet more ironies around the nature of books on the internet. When I started working for a library service in 2013 I was – confused? amused? bemused? – by the fact we had to buy ebooks in units. So if we wanted to lend The Warmth of Other Suns ebook to our borrowers, we’d have to buy, say, 20 “copies” of a file. And if we “ran out” of these 20 copies, borrowers would have to go through the charade of placing a “hold” on a copy.

The reason for this is that publishers have always been wary of lending ebooks via libraries – it also explains why you have to use a DRM app in order to get the ebook onto your device once you’ve downloaded it to your PC.

(Sidenote: This is one of several reasons it’s worth looking at a Kobo ereader instead of a Kindle. Because Rakuten, the company that owns Kobo, also owns Libby, the company that most library services use to distribute ebooks, you can download library ebooks directly onto your device, thereby avoiding the whole DRM dance.)

…while they [US publishers] want to insist to you that copying a digital file is “theft,” they will also deny that those same digital files get the kind of first sale rights of physical books.

So publishers get it both ways. By making libraries buy and distribute singular “copies” of ebooks they keep prices high; when a library then argues that the price should therefore be “reasonable” – presumably in relation to the cost of a physical copy – publishers disagree.

By Mike Masnick. Originally published 03/03/22.


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When I first started using my local library’s e-book service, I thought that it was so absurd that I had to place a hold for books that were “checked out.” Trying to enforce an artificial scarcity on a digital commodity is nonsensical. The record industry had to adapt when physical media was mostly replaced by digital downloads. Nobody would stand for not being able to stream a song at a particular moment because someone else happened to be listening to it at that time. I think that publishers will have to eventually reconsider their current business model, although I hope that borrowing books doesn’t turn into yet another subscription-based service with each publisher keeping books exclusive to their own stores.