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November 2021
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Publishers Want To Make Ebooks More Expensive And Harder To Lend For Libraries; Ron Wyden And Anna Eshoo Have Questions

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Techdirt has noted in the past that if public libraries didn't exist, the copyright industry would never allow them to be created. Publishers can't go back in time to change history (fortunately). But the COVID pandemic, which largely stopped people borrowing physical books, presented publishers with a huge opportunity to make the lending of newly-popular ebooks by libraries as hard as possible.A UK campaign to fight that development in the world of academic publishing, called #ebookSOS, spells out the problems. Ebooks are frequently unavailable to institutions to license as ebooks. When they are on offer, they can be ten or more times the cost of the same paper book. The #ebookSOS campaign has put together a spreadsheet listing dozens of named examples. One title cost 29.99 as a physical book, and 1,306.32 for a single-user ebook license. As if those prices weren't high enough, it's common for publishers to raise the cost with no warning, and to withdraw ebook licenses already purchased. One of the worst aspects is the following:

Publishers are increasingly offering titles via an etextbook model, via third party companies, licensing content for use by specific, very restricted, cohorts of students on an annual basis. Quotes for these are usually hundreds, or sometimes thousands, times more than a print title, and this must be paid each year for new cohorts of students to gain access. This is exclusionary, restricts interdisciplinary research, and is unsustainable.
Although #ebookSOS is a UK campaign, the problem is global, as publishers try to change the nature of ebook lending everywhere. Ron Wyden and Anna Eshoo have noticed that it's happening in the US, and seem unimpressed by the publishing industry's moves, as a letter to the CEO of Penguin Random House (pdf) makes clear:
Many libraries face financial and practical challenges in making e-books available to their patrons, which jeopardizes their ability to fulfill their mission. 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. These licensing agreements, with terms set by individual publishers, 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. Under these arrangements, libraries are forced to rent books through very restrictive agreements that look like leases.
The letter asks for answers to nine detailed questions about any restrictions imposed on ebook use, the pricing of both physical and digital books, as well as information about any legal actions that have been taken in response to things like multiple checkouts of digital texts, interlibrary loans, controlled digital lending, and institutions making digital copies of physical books they own.This is a hugely important battle, since it's clear the publishing world sees it as a unique chance to redefine what libraries can do with ebooks. It's part of the much larger, very troubling trend to turn everyone into renters, and to bring about the end of ownership.Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter, Diaspora, or Mastodon.

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posted at: 12:00am on 02-Nov-2021
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Lessons From The First Internet Ages

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On Tuesday and Wednesday of this week I'm excited to be participating in an event that the Knight Foundation is putting on, curated by law professors Eric Goldman and Mary Anne Franks, entitled Lessons From the First Internet Ages. The event kicks off with the release of reflections on "the first internet age" from various internet luminaries who were there -- but also, most importantly talking about what they might have done differently. I'm going to have a writeup at some future date on my response to the pieces, but I highly recommend checking them all out. In particular, I'll recommend the pieces by Senator Ron Wyden, Nicole Wong, Brewster Kahle, Vint Cerf, Reid Hoffman, and Tim Berners-Lee. I also think that the interviews Eric Goldman conducted with Matthew Prince and Nirav Tolia were both fascinating.Just to give you a snippet, Wyden's article really is excellent:

I firmly reject the notion that improving our national discourse requires changing Section 230 or the First Amendment to give the government more power over speech. Instead, I wish I had been equally successful at protecting the other essential elements of the open internet: access, competition and personal privacy.One of the internet's strengths is its ability to give a megaphone to new voices that don't own a television station or printing press. Digital activism has made grassroots, progressive politics a stronger force than we've seen in more than half a century. It has put a spotlight on police violence against Black Americans and allowed LGBTQ+ communities to organize in ways that weren't possible before. It has allowed journalists of color to call out their own organizations' coverage of race. But unless all Americans have the underlying infrastructure they need to access these communications tools, their promise falls short. And right now, far too many Americans still lack reliable, affordable high-speed internet access.
Anyway, for the next two days, there will be some really fascinating panel discussions on these reflections with a bunch of other great and thoughtful folks, including Julia Angwin, Esther Dyson, Daphne Keller, Chris Lewis, Evelen Douek, Jonathan Zittrain, Cory Doctorow, Alex MacGillivray, and many more. It should be a really fascinating for anyone interested both in the history of the internet, as well as its future.

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posted at: 12:00am on 02-Nov-2021
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