After COVID boom, eBook aggregators face congressional licensing issues
A Democratic senator on Thursday launched an investigation into how publishers license e-books to libraries, calling on nine major e-book aggregators to provide details of the licensing agreements they make with libraries.
Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), along with Representative Anna Eshoo (D-CA), sent letters demanding that aggregators like Overdrive and EBSCO provide them with sample standard eBook licensing agreements for each major publisher they work with, including Penguin. Random House and Simon & Schuster.
“Many libraries face financial and practical challenges in making e-books available to their customers, compromising their ability to fulfill their mission,” the lawmakers wrote. “We understand that these difficulties arise because eBooks are typically offered under more expensive and limited license agreements, unlike print books which libraries can typically purchase, own, and lend on their own terms. “
In September, Wyden and Eshoo first asked publishers about the terms they set for e-book licenses. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many public libraries to shut down the in-person service, and people have started using online services like Overdrive’s Libby app to borrow digital books instead of physical copies. “Ensuring that libraries can offer a range of resources, including e-books, is essential to promote equity in education and access to information,” lawmakers wrote to Penguin Random House more early this year.
Major publishers have sued organizations in the past for copyright infringement for offering free copies of eBooks. In June 2020, Hachette, Penguin Random House, Wiley and HarperCollins filed a lawsuit against the Internet Archive for copyright violations related to the Open Library project. The project was started in 2006 and has enabled users to borrow digitized e-books from physical copies of books.
In Thursday’s letters, lawmakers highlighted how digital versions of books can be more accessible to people with disabilities. “In recent years, electronic books have taken an increasing place in library catalogs. Not only do many library users prefer to borrow eBooks, digital options may provide greater accessibility for Americans with disabilities, facing mobility challenges, or living in remote areas, ”they said.