Electronic Books in Libraries: Rights of Libraries and Publishers

By Folensbee-Moore, Barbara | Information Outlook, February 2001 | Go to article overview

Electronic Books in Libraries: Rights of Libraries and Publishers


Folensbee-Moore, Barbara, Information Outlook


In February 1999, the main branch of Richmond, British Columbia's public library, began to loan four SoftBook readers. Pre-loaded with a mix of thirteen fiction and non-fiction titles, there was a fifty-person waiting list to try them out within three months. Not exactly what the librarians had expected!

As other public libraries in Canada and the United States begin to venture into the e-book lending arena, the issues surrounding access, privacy, copyright and fair use will become more and more important. Digital rights management is a new phrase that is being used during discussions about licensing and access to the electronic world of publishing. Both libraries and publishers have serious concerns about these issues. It is important to discuss how electronic book providers are allowing access to materials and libraries are trying to balance the interests of the users and the publishers. This is an area of interest that will grow as more and more libraries begin to invest in the electronic book and begin to realize what effect it has on their collection development policies, budget considerations, service orientation, and patron access concerns.

Use of the electronic resources for libraries is nothing new. Patrons have had access to a variety of publications on CD-Rom as well as both commercial and free databases for years. Libraries purchased individual copies to run on stand alone machines in the library then expanded to provide access through library networks. Academic libraries have been particularly active in recent years in expanding their electronics resources to patrons via the Internet. Students rarely have to leave their dorm room to get access to any number of reference sources, full text journal articles, searchable databases and even full text monographs or treatises.

While reference books have been the preferred type of publications for online access, there is a growing realization that full text works, in which a user may be interested in only a small portion of the work are also becoming popular. If someone needs a copy of what they are reading or wants to include a paragraph or two in the paper they are writing, they simply print, download or cut and paste.

Missing from most electronic book collections have been the literary or humanities publications. Scientific or fact oriented publications have lent themselves more readily as the next step from searching a citation index or bibliography to searching a treatise. Further, information that changes rapidly can be kept more current in an electronic version. Students can buy books for class on a CD and then update them through their web access.

As more titles have become available, libraries have also begun to change the source of the access they provide. No longer housing all the materials on their own internal system, libraries are beginning to provide access for their patrons to materials located at the publishers websites or through a third party provider or clearinghouse. It is this publisher and third party access that causes some concerns for libraries.

When discussing electronic books and access to these publications, the phrase that is beginning to become important is "copyright management." In June 2000, the Copyright Clearance Center announced that it had developed an "end to end licensing and reprint solution that enables publishers and other content providers to offer their copyrighted material online, delivering instant permissions and the content itself directly to customers." [1]

Copyright protection through digital rights management includes products and services that allow information to be offered to customers in a secure fashion allowing the use of computers to facilitate the easy use, processing and redistribution of information.

Publishers are interested in protecting their copyright interests in the publications they are offering electronically. Of particular interest are expanding licenses to cover not only onsite users but those accessing the work via the web. …

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Electronic Books in Libraries: Rights of Libraries and Publishers
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