Libraries play an important role in our society. For a vast majority of people who rely on libraries and their collections, libraries function as gatekeepers to the public’s access to information and knowledge. Libraries also have an important role in facilitating this access in the online environment, a role which has been made clearer during the Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting challenges to the lending of physical books. As libraries could not open their facilities to the public, their patrons were allocated to the online services libraries were able to offer.
Therefore, it is even more urgent to have a possibility for libraries to offer the lending of e-books. This would additionally lower the threshold for having to go to the premises of the library, as this can also involve time and costs for patrons. But regardless of the pandemic, e-lending plays a key role in making information and culture available to a larger audience. E-lending has the potential to strengthen access to information and culture for people with disabilities and people with a lower income, or socioeconomic status in our society. It can be difficult for both groups of people to come to the premises of a library, but these are the people who are probably most dependent on libraries as a source of information.
Although public libraries can make use of the public lending exception in European Union (EU) copyright law, it remains uncertain to what extent lending of e-books (e-lending) is covered by the existing legal exception and how it should work in practice. In this project, we research not only the legal background of e-lending, but also the current e-lending practices in the EU, with a focus on our home country of The Netherlands. On this basis, we examine different options to address the legal uncertainty public libraries face and provide recommendations on how to improve legal certainty on public e-lending at EU level.
The Policy Brief can be downloaded here.