The blogs and mailing lists are agog over the decision of the EU Court to the effect that e-books may be loaned by public libraries on the same basis as printed books. Publishers’ organizations appear to be bent on completely misunderstanding the decision, which requires that only one person at a time may download a copy of an e-book, just as only one person at a time can borrow a printed book. But we find the Publishers’ Association in the UK claiming:

“This court decision raises concerns about the implications for the emerging ebooks market. In our view there is a fundamental difference between printed books and ebooks in that digital copies can be copied and borrowed by an unlimited number of readers.”

Either the spokesman is being stupid, or assumes his/her readers are stupid, in making such a statement, since the ruling is completely the opposite of what he claims. The fact is, the big publishers do not like public libraries to be lending BOOKS – not just e-books, but books generally. And this in spite of a history of public libraries that demonstrates that improving access to books for all has built the publishing industry – without public libraries acting as advertising sites for their books there would probably be many fewer publishers around. Indeed, small publishers are very well aware of the value of public libraries: in our interviews in Sweden we have heard them say so.

The Federation of European publishers makes the same claim:

“Lending” an e-book is very different from lending a printed book since digital “lending” in fact means copying. One digital copy can for example potentially be “borrowed” by an indefinite number of users, whereas a physical copy can only be borrowed and read by one person at a time, and is subject to a degree of deterioration.

I wonder why these two agencies are so determined to misrepresent the findings of the Court? It is clearly deliberate, and hence, dishonest misrepresentation, rather than simply an error, so what do they imagine they gain by it? I can only assume that in perpetrating such nonsense, they hope that Ministers and law-makers will believe them and act to prevent e-lending of any description. The Tory government in Britain is all too likely to fall for such nonsense since it would support their desire to get rid of public services of all kinds, a desire that has already led to the loss of 1,000 jobs in British public libraries and the loss of more than 500 branch libraries.

As far as Sweden is concerned, the ruling seems unlikely to make much difference, since public library lending is paid for on a per loan basis, so the publishers are paid for every use of an e-book, regardless of how many people are reading it at the same time. It seems unlikely that Elib will put in place a process to limit use in the way suggested by the ruling, and as Elib is still partly owned by the four major publishers in Sweden, we can assume that they too are happy with the present method.