European Court Addresses Library Lending of E-Books

June 20, 2016

 Max Rossi / Reuters

Max Rossi / Reuters

In a recent action, Europe’s highest court, the Court of European Justice, clarified its position that electronic books are subject to the same rules governing library lending as are print books.  This action helps to integrate e-books more fully into the framework of rules that govern book lending by libraries in Europe.

Under a 2006 directive, the European Union granted book authors the exclusive right to control leasing and lending of their books, while also permitting EU governments to override author controls provided that those authors receive fair compensation.  The 2006 directive did not, however, specifically include electronic books.

In the Netherlands, libraries are permitted to provide books only to one borrower at a time.  The association of public libraries in the Netherlands proposed to apply that same rule to e-books.  The proposed process makes use of software which ensures that each copy of an e-book can only be accessed by one person at a time.

Matsuura Blakeley BannerIn a recent opinion, the Attorney General to the Court of European Justice ruled that the proposed e-book lending process submitted by the libraries in the Netherlands was lawful.  The Attorney General noted that the process controls access to the e-books in a manner which is fair to authors, and is thus consistent with the 2006 directive.

This case illustrates the extent to which electronic books are now integrated into the book publishing and distribution marketplace.  When the EU developed its directive addressing book publication and distribution in 2006, the e-book market had not yet matured to the point where it was specifically recognized in the discussions associated with the directive.

In the decade since that time, however, electronic books and electronic publishing in general have become a major force in the media marketplace.  As this case suggests, there has generally been an effort across jurisdictions to apply the same rules and processes to e-books as are applied to print materials.

In general, equal treatment for print and electronic published materials is sensible and fair.  It is important to recognize, however, that electronic publications have characteristics and capabilities that are different than those associated with print materials.  Authorities should always remain mindful of those differences and should consider their impact and implications as e-books and other electronic publications are integrated into the traditional media marketplace.