Libraries play a crucial role in bringing people to reading. From children’s books to the latest thrillers, they are the safety value in the copyright system that prevents access to culture being the preserve of the better off. They also provide a crucial opportunity for many new writers to find readers.

As reading habits change, libraries work to keep up, in order to continue to play this vital role. In addition to countless examples of innovative new services and activities, they are also investing in buying and lending eBooks. Indeed, it is what our communities demand.

As Advocate-General Szpunar underlined earlier this year:

“…books are not regarded as an ordinary commodity and that literary creation is not a simple economic activity. The importance of books for the preservation of, and access to culture and scientific knowledge has always taken precedence over considerations of a purely economic nature.

Today in the digital age, libraries must be able to continue to fulfil the task of cultural preservation and dissemination that they have performed when books existed only in a paper form”.

Technology Moves on, but the Law Has Lagged Behind

However, libraries around the world have long faced uncertainties and hurdles. There is often uncertainty as to which laws apply, while publishers frequently refuse to sell eBooks to libraries, or only do so at inflated prices or for time-limited periods. Libraries have done their best to keep up with the times, but sadly the law has not always done the same.

Libraries simply want to be able to buy and lend eBooks in a way that works best for our users. There is no conclusive evidence that eLending harms sales, or leads to other negative outcomes. Indeed, at a time that eBook sales are stagnating, there is a potential need to bring more people into e-reading – libraries can help.

As libraries and publishers agreed in a joint statement for the first International Day for the Universal Access to Information, we share the goal of a situation where libraries should be able to lend out eBooks, to the benefit of all.

To do this, the right laws are necessary – leaving things to the market cannot be an option. IFLA has therefore closely followed case C-174/15 at the Court of Justice of the European Union, which has been looking at whether eLending, in certain circumstances, can be governed by the same rules as traditional lending.

An eBook is a Book

Today, the judges declared that e-lending does indeed fall under the same rules as traditional lending, at least in particular cases. IFLA will work with EBLIDA and other partners to analyse the judgement, but it at least appears to provide welcome recognition of libraries’ role and offers new certainty.

However, as underlined in our response to the opinion of the Advocate-General, this case can only be a first step. Libraries risk still being unable to buy and lend all eBooks in a timely way and at a reasonable price. Further progress by lawmakers is needed for libraries to be able to fulfil their potential, to the benefit of readers, authors and publishers alike.