Defending Lending

Here’s a post I shouldn’t have to write, folks, but libraries have every right to circulate materials. In non-library speak, we have the right to share the books you want to read, the films you want to watch, the music you want to listen to. We have the right to lend you the internet on our computers, to lend you the sewing machine you need to finish your curtains, to lend you the space you need for your community meeting.

We have a right to lend intellectual property because of The First Sale Doctrine, codified in 17 U.S.C. § Section 109 of the Copyright Act, provides that anyone who legally acquires a copyrighted work from the copyright holder receives the right to sell, display, or otherwise dispose of that particular copy, notwithstanding the interests of the copyright owner. We have the right because we paid for these things TO share them. We have that right because we lend in service of preserving the cultural record for the public good. We have the right to lend because access to information is a human right. We have a right to lend because that’s what we’re here to do– and by doing so we prevent art, knowledge, tools, and more from being available only to those who can afford to pay.

When we talk about the myriad equity gaps in this country, libraries are too often left out of the discourse. We have been working to address equity the whole time– helping to save individuals and communities from duplicate, unnecessary, and frankly wasteful purchases which lead to (you guessed it) more waste and inequity.

That’s why I am fundamentally galled (but not surprised) with the greedy, spurious, and unconvincing lawsuit from Hachette, HarperCollins, Wiley & Sons, and Penguin Random House to stop Controlled Digital Lending. Publishers have sued to shut down a library, the Internet Archive, that simply attempted to operate under the incredibly constrained conditions of COVID-19. They are suing a library that did a huge amount of good to a large number of Americans who were stuck at home with nothing to do at a time when economic insecurity spread faster than the pandemic. The Internet Archive did so with thoughtfulness and lending constraints and limits that honored the law while supporting access.

Publishers are attacking the longstanding and widespread library practice of Controlled Digital Lending, the digital equivalent of traditional library lending. This lawsuit threatens a library’s right to buy, preserve and lend books.  Publishers are seeking to delete all books from our digital shelves during a global pandemic when digital access is more important than ever. If you are not in favor of libraries being able to lend a scanned copy of a book they own in print, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.

To say that by lending you the content we own in print through a scanned version online is in any way a theft is just a current convenient argument, the latest volley in a series by industries that want to rob all of us of the right to ownership while maintaining the cost of access and depriving authors and creators of adequate financial support.

The irony and immorality that the preferred industry revenue model (subscription) borrows (I KNOW) heavily from library methodology is not lost on me.

Because here’s the thing- libraries did pay for those books that the Internet Archive provided access to. Libraries provide significant financial support for cultural contribution and access– and we are continually stymied and rebuffed while trying to pay for ebooks to address access issues with more straightforward acquisitions. Who is the thief here, really?

That’s it. That’s the post. Lend on, lend out, lend everything. Lend aggressively.

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