Publishers and booksellers associations have expressed concern over an e-lending ruling passed by the European Union which will see the lending of digital books in public libraries treated the same as physical books in "certain conditions". But the ruling has been welcomed by librarians.
In a case brought to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) by the association of Dutch public libraries —Vereniging Openbare Bibliotheken (VOB)— the CJEU has ruled that digital books could be lent out by libraries in the same way as physical books, provided that authors are renumerated in the same way as they are when physical books are lent and the electronic book has been acquired legally.
The Federation of European Publishers (FEP) has said that the decision comes as a “shock” for the book publishing community as lending an e-book is “very different” from lending a printed book and "digital lending in fact means copying". The body went on to say: "One digital copy can for example potentially be ‘borrowed’ by an indefinite number of users, whereas a physical copy can only be borrowed and read by one person at a time."
The body added: "Revenues from sales of physical books and e-books to the market are still the main way the sector is financed, and authors are remunerated. Very simply, it is difficult to compete in a market in which virtually the identical product is available for free."
Stephen Lotinga, chief executive of the Publishers Association, agreed that the decision raises concerns about the implications for the emerging e-books market.
“Publishers are supportive of the efforts to promote e-lending and are working with libraries to enable this to happen, but this court decision raises concerns about the implications for the emerging e-books market", he said. "In our view there is a fundamental difference between printed books and e-books in that digital copies can be copied and borrowed by an unlimited number of readers. While it’s important that libraries are able to develop and that authors are properly remunerated for public loans, that cannot be at the expense of a functioning digital book market. We will now be considering this court decision carefully to understand fully the impact on current lending practices.”
The European and International Booksellers Federation (EIBF) went further, and said that the ruling was a “very dangerous decision”. “Assimilating e-lending to the lending of physical books… does not take into account the economic reality of the book chain and is likely to lead to serious disruptions on the nascent e-book market”, the federation said.
However librarian body the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) has welcomed the ruling. Nick Poole, chief executive of CILIP, said: "While most libraries in the UK lend e-books the choice of titles is limited, and less than one percent of all books lent are e-books. Currently copyright law restricts the choice of e-books the public can borrow and flexibility with which libraries can lend.
"This ruling is a welcome step towards balancing fair remuneration for rights-holders with the needs of the public and the benefits that digital knowledge sharing brings to us all."