With the ever-increasing importance of libraries as a way readers can discover new authors and books, and the growing popularity of digital access, we thought it was time to post a comprehensive update on libraries and ebook licensing.
It’s important to recognize that the large majority of libraries license, rather than buy, their ebooks. This is a critical difference, because in licensing contracts, the first sale doctrine does not apply.
For those who need reminding, the first sale doctrine is the section of copyright law that states “once a product is sold, the original creator/owner gives up all rights to preventing that copy from being resold, lent, rented, or otherwise conveyed to another person,” according to John Palfrey at The Digital Shift.
When the issue of ebook collections came up, publishers opted to license ebooks instead of selling, not only because libraries are a distinct market, but because they wanted to maintain the one patron, one book per rental paradigm with an expiration date imitating print’s inevitable wear and tear. This decision came after a fairly long period of time when publishers grappled with the best way to mimic their print deals with libraries, resulting in the initially controversial HarperCollins model.
As currently set up, the Big 5 have a few ways of going about ebook licensing contracts: