Lawmakers Expand Inquiry into Library E-book Market

November 19, 2021
In The News

Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) and U.S. Representative Anna Eshoo (D-California) this week expanded their ongoing inquiry into the library e-book market, this time issuing a set of questions to nine major distributors. The lawmakers have asked for responses by December 9, 2021.

 

The inquiry requests information including: copies of standard licensing agreements and a description of restrictions; sales information going back to 2018; information on the kind of patron data that is gathered and kept; whether any data breaches have occurred, including incidents that may have “unintentionally exposed” library or patron data; a description of any legal actions the firms may have undertaken; and information about each firm’s 100 most sold or licensed works from 2015 to 2019.

 

The inquiry was sent to the CEOs of OverDrive, Hoopla (Midwest Tape), EBSCO, ProQuest, Axis 360 (Baker & Taylor), Bibliotheca, Gale (Cengage), Elsevier (RELX), DPLA Exchange/Palace Marketplace (LYRASIS).

 

The latest inquiry comes after the lawmakers in September issued a similar set of questions to the Big Five publishers, which referenced the “the exorbitant costs and burdensome restrictions” of e-book licenses which they contend “are draining resources from many local libraries,” and “forcing [libraries] to make difficult choices to try and provide a consistent level of service” to their communities.

 

“It is our understanding that these difficulties arise because e-books are typically offered under more expensive and limited licensing agreements, unlike print books that libraries can typically purchase, own, and lend on their own terms,” Wyden and Eshoo write in a release this week. “These licensing agreements, with terms set by individual publishers and e-book aggregators, often include restrictions on lending, transfer, and reproduction, which may conflict with libraries’ ability to loan books, as well as with copyright exceptions and limitations.”

 

The Wyden/Eshoo inquiry comes after a decade of tension and a fraught past two years in the digital library market, highlighted by Macmillan's controversial (and since abandoned) experiment to embargo new release e-book titles to libraries, and with demand for library e-books surging in the wake of the pandemic.

 

Currently, two states, Maryland and New York, have passed laws requiring that publishers who make e-books available to consumers in the state must also make those works available to libraries on "reasonable" terms, measures opposed by the Association of American Publishers. And, a group of major publishers is suing the Internet Archive over its program to scan print copies of library books and to lend the scans in lieu of print under an untested legal theory known as controlled digital lending.

 

A spokesperson from Wyden’s office recently told PW that all of the major publishers have responded to the lawmaker’s initial inquiry, but declined at this point to characterize their responses or to say whether the publishers fully answered the questions.