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Future of Libraries – Need First Sale for ebooks

How will libraries hold onto ebooks and other digital files like mp3s so that readers and scholars in the future can still read them?  The current state of affairs relies on license agreements with publishers who in turn license to vendors, who in turn, license to libraries.  Hardly sustainable when files can and do disappear when either the publisher or the vendor no longer offer them.

Libraries rely on the right of first sale to lend print books, and need an analogous right in the world of ebooks and digital music. To that end, the American Library Association, the Association of College and Research Libraries, the Association of Research Libraries and the Internet Archive filed a brief on Feb. 14, 2017 in support of Redigi, a company that sells used mp3 files to music customers.  The brief argues that an evaluation of Fair Use should consider the rationale of the First Sale doctrine, and other specific exceptions. It argues that enabling the transfer of the right of possession should be favored under Fair Use.

It is essential to libraries, and the term existential would not be too great a term to use, to be able to own digital files, and care for them via preservation and library lends (e.g. to one person at a time) just as they do with print.  Can readers count on books being available a year or two or five after publication? The existence of libraries has made this possible from their inception until now.

The flexibility of digital content allows for an endless array of licensing opportunities (e.g. multiple simultaneous users) which is mutually beneficial to both publishers and users.  It is not practical to rely only on first sale for library delivery of econtent. The two modes for libraries to acquiring ebooks, licensing and first sale are not mutually exclusive but mutually dependent.