For those who have been paying close attention, this is not news. It came up at the Massachusetts Library Association conference in May, it was bruited about at the American Library Association (ALA) annual meeting in Anaheim in June, and it was mentioned in a “corner office” interview I had with Skip Dye, Random House’s vice president of library and academic marketing and sales, during LJ’s virtual ebook summit on Wednesday. But the potential implications of Random House’s stance are not receiving enough attention and consideration.Let’s violate a journalistic tenet and repeat that headline: Random House says libraries own their ebooks.
I asked Random House to confirm its position in a subsequent interview, and here is what Dye told me.
“We spend a lot of time discussing this with librarians, at conferences and elsewhere, and it’s clear that there is still some confusion out there around whether libraries own their ebooks,” Dye said. “Random House’s often repeated, and always consistent position is this: when libraries buy their RH, Inc. ebooks from authorized library wholesalers, it is our position that they own them.”
He went on to make clear the distinction with licensing:
“This is our business model: we sell copies of our ebooks to an approved list of library wholesalers, and those wholesalers are supposed to resell them to libraries. In our view, this purchase constitutes ownership of the book by the library. It is not a license.”
That last sentence needs to be underlined and italicized.
The Connecticut State Library’s Advisory Council for Library Planning and Development (ACLPD) this week released a white paper on ebooks which says, among other things, that “While libraries have traditionally valued ownership of materials, when it comes to ebooks, a careful reading and thorough understanding of the licensing agreement with each vendor will hold the library in better stead than promises of electronic ownership.”
A well-crafted perpetual license is not to be sniffed at, particularly when preservation is a concern. But if a Big Six publisher affirms, without equivocation, that libraries own that publisher’s ebooks, it behooves librarians to ensure that whatever licenses they are signing with vendors or aggregators do not unwittingly curtail or sign away the rights that entail from this frankly avowed ownership, particularly user exceptions under copyright law. Are libraries doing this now when it comes to Random House titles? Do contracts contravene Random House’s laudable intent? Random House is still taking heat for its price hikes (which the company continues to adjust), but are librarians fully appreciating the import of the position the company is staking out here?
Full piece at Library Journal