Applying Printing-Press Rules To Digital Books

The New York Public Library has 87 branches, but recently some patrons have decided to forgo all of them, and visit the stacks in their living rooms instead.

As the popularity of e-books has increased, libraries across the country have installed virtual stacks. At the New York Public Library’s website, patrons can check out audio books and e-books, temporarily downloading items directly to their computers or mobile devices, without ever stepping inside a physical library. “As our readership goes online, our materials dollars are going online,” Christopher Platt, the director of collections and circulating operations for the New York Public Library told The New York Times.(1) The American Library Association estimates that two out of every three libraries now offer e-books.

But a recent decision by HarperCollins may slow the growth of libraries’ digital collections. The publisher announced this month that it will set a lending limit for new e-books it sells to libraries. Under the new policy, after a HarperCollins e-book is checked out 26 times, it will self-destruct. The limit is intended to provide a digital equivalent of the ordinary wear and tear that, over time, causes paper books to expire.

The restriction raises interesting copyright issues. In the U.S., libraries are able to lend books as a result of what is known as the “right of first sale.” This legal principle allows the purchaser of a particular iteration of a copyrighted work to resell or lend it without permission from the copyright holder, so long as no additional copies are made. Once I have bought a copy of a book, CD or DVD, it is mine to do with as I wish.

This principle, fairly straightforward when applied to physical objects, becomes more complex for “objects” such as MP3 files or e-books that exist only as bits of digital information. In response to file-sharing sites, which attempted to apply the doctrine of first sale to digital content, copyright holders began to assert that content transmitted digitally was licensed rather than sold. Since there was never any actual sale, they claimed, the right of first sale did not apply and they could, as a result, exercise greater control over how the content was used. End User License Agreements were created, requiring customers to agree that, though they seemed to be paying money to acquire a product, they were, in fact, not buying anything. By asserting a right to limit libraries’ use of e-books, HarperCollins is essentially claiming that its e-books are, like software programs, licensed rather than sold.

The principle of “fair use” provides further information on how copyrighted works can be used. It is less directly applicable to library e-books, since it applies primarily to the replication of portions of copyrighted works rather than to the use of individual copies of whole works. But it offers some useful general guidelines for considering what constitutes copyright infringement. According to the laws on “fair use,” individuals and courts examining whether a particular use is fair or not are instructed to consider “the effect of the use upon the potential market for, or value of, the copyrighted work.”

Publishers argue that unlimited library access to e-books would undercut their sales. If e-books are readily available to “check out” for free at any time, they worry, customers would have little reason to click “buy” rather than “borrow.” HarperCollins said in a statement about its new policy, “We have serious concerns that our previous e-book policy, selling e-books to libraries in perpetuity, if left unchanged, would undermine the emerging e-book ecosystem, hurt the growing e-book channel, place additional pressure on physical bookstores, and in the end lead to a decrease in book sales and royalties paid to authors.”(2)

While the existing case law is murky, I am inclined to believe that, regardless of the possible consequences for publishers, the “right of first sale” applies.

But I doubt libraries will sue to win the point. While the “right of first sale” protects purchasers of copyrighted material, there is no “right to first sale.” If selling e-books to libraries hurts their profits, publishers are free to simply refuse to do business with libraries. In fact, Simon & Schuster and Macmillan, two of the largest trade publishers in the U.S., currently do precisely that.

Just as libraries depend on publishers, publishers depend on libraries for a large portion of their sales. Sales to libraries can account for 7 to 9 percent of a publisher’s overall revenue, two major publishers told The New York Times. Like it or not, publishers and libraries are locked in a relationship of mutual interdependence.

My guess is that publishers and libraries ultimately will find a solution that both can accept. Publishers might, for example, delay release of popular new e-books to libraries, forcing those who want to read the book right away to buy it. This is not much different from the way films are released first to theaters, then for pay-tv, and finally for sale and rental on digital media. Alternatively, or additionally, publishers might charge a per-checkout premium after a certain free lending limit, rather than requiring libraries to purchase new copies once theirs “expire.” This would make it possible for libraries to keep books on their virtual shelves even when they are not sure if there will be enough future interest to justify buying a new copy.

The question of how to handle library e-books is just one of many that have resulted from the digitalization of literature. I have written previously about Macmillan’s fight with Amazon last year over e-book prices, Google’s usurpation of rights to out-of-print works and newspapers’ fights to retain control of, and profit from, the content they produce. As we move into new legal territory, the specific provisions of existing copyright laws are increasingly proving inadequate to address new issues.

But the basic principles that govern our attitudes toward intellectual property are solid. Going forward, we should not alter our principles to fit changes in technology, but should instead develop innovative ways of using technology to honor our long-standing principles. Libraries and publishers should be able to find a new way to respect the old principle that expressions of ideas, once purchased, can be sold or lent for the benefit of everyone, even when those ideas are recorded in computer code rather than on paper.


(1) The New York Times: Publisher Limits Shelf Life For Library E-Books

(2) HarperCollins: Open Letter To Librarians

The Online Library Is Taking a Step Further in Educating the World

Using an online library has numerous advantages over the conventional library. In order to use a conventional library, book lovers have to physically go there at a specific time and search for the books needed. If a book has already been borrowed by another person for reading and extra copies are not available a user is compelled to choose another book or go home empty handed. In a normal library a person can only borrow a book for a set amount of time: borrowed books have to be read quickly. All the problems mentioned above have been solved by the online library. The online library has no physical restraints: you can borrow/read books from the comfort of your living room couch using your computer. In general you also do not have the issue of digital copies of a book running out. In addition to the afore-mentioned, searching through/for a book is as easy as can be using the online library.

With the click of a mouse button the digital book is in front of the reader to devour. Also comparative analysis between digital versions and paperback versions of the same book has shown that digital books are generally cheaper than their paperback brethren. The most important advantage that an online library has over a conventional library is that the conventional library is generally restricted to certain locales, and in places where no conventional library is present people are deprived of precious knowledge. The online library does not have the afore-mentioned problem: online libraries can generally be accessed from anywhere in the world where computers and internet is available. In addition to the preceding cons associated with using a traditional library, there are also substantial costs associated with maintaining the physical buildings/artefacts associated with a conventional library. Also, in villages that abound in third world countries, conventional libraries are rare and the furtherance of education through the use of the conventional library is impossible. Online libraries are pervasive across the internet and are generally cheaper to maintain or use in comparison to the conventional library.

A Social library is basically an online library with a social component. The social library has further enhanced the importance of online libraries. The social library’s connection with social sites has given a new user experience to the avid book lover. Sharing a book and also sharing thoughts about a book has become easier. The trouble with sharing a paperback edition with a friend living far away is not only time consuming but also tiresome. With social libraries, sharing a book with a friend/colleague half way around the world is as easy as clicking on one mouse button. Eric Fromm was famously quoted as saying “Why should society feel responsible only for the education of children, and not for the education of all adults of every age?” The Social Library is the answer to Eric’s question!

Top Ten Tips: Where to Get the Best Business Books Now!

There are many places you can get books, and I don’t pretend to know them all. I’ve listed a few of my favorites below. I hope they’ll inspire you to make a way to read a new book or 5!

Readers make leaders!

My first recommendation is to borrow the books from the library, and purchase the ones that make a difference in your life. The ones that are listed above are ones that have made a difference in MY life, so they might not be the ones you buy. In case you want to purchase them, I’ve listed a few places you can buy them near you or online.

For those of us that are “too busy” to read books, my second recommendation will make it easier for you. Listen to the books, instead of reading them. As Zig Ziglar says, “Your car is your university.” Insert bus/train/plane and you get the picture. That time you spend commuting you could be learning. If you listen to 30 minutes of books per day, just think of how much better versed you’ll be than the person who listens to the local talking heads talk about the TV show you didn’t watch last night!

To listen to the books, the easiest thing I’ve found (besides getting CDs or tapes from the library) is – If you don’t have time to actually READ books get a subscription from Get the newest books, and the most interesting books here.

Simply Audio

I just found out about this from a good friend of mine, and it looks phenomenal: Rent as many audio books as you want for $19.95 a month. It’s like a personal leadership library that you can get what you want, and then send it back. Netflix for audio books. What a great idea, especially if you’re lacking a nearby library or bookseller. – A bookstore with an attitude, based here in good old Milwaukee. The “Keen Thinker” selections are worth their weight in gold, the “Jack Covert Selects” books are almost always a solid pick in my eyes.

Half Price Books – Not sure if these are in your area, but we have 4 or 5 here in Milwaukee, and often I find the books I want in perfect shape, for, you guessed it, half price! I’ve even found autographed copies of books here (still only half price). And if you sign up for their newsletter (they won’t spam you), you’ll get extra special discounts not available to the general public.

Buy used books at for less. You might even find some for a dollar, or even ONE PENNY (plus shipping and handling, of course). I strongly encourage you look for other people’s used books here, because it’s simple, easy, and affordable, even with $2.49 for shipping. A bonus: link directly to eBay for the latest business book auctions.

Barnes & Noble

Why do I recommend Barnes & Noble, instead of Borders or any other chain? Because they have a preferred customer plan, where for $15 or so a year, I can get a discount on everything I buy at the store. Also, I L-O-V-E their listening stations for new music (I never buy any music from them, but that’s because they think $15.98 is a fair price for a CD).

Yes, I have to include because not only can you get new books from them, you can also buy used books, and often I find the book I couldn’t find at my local library for only a dollar or two.

Your local thrift store

You can pick up some old classics at your local thrift store for just a few bucks or less if you’re lucky. Befriend the people who work there, and they’ll tell you what days they put new stuff out and maybe pull some of the best aside for you.