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Libraries Need More Freedom to Distribute Digital Books

The Atlantic: “Last week, a district court judge in New York ruled on Hachette Book Group, Inc. v. Internet Archive, a case that is likely to shape how we read books on smartphones, tablets, and computers in the future. Although the case hinged on technical details of copyright law, the source of the conflict is much less abstract. It’s a story about the halting, uneasy transition of books from paper to digital formats, and the anxiety of publishers and frustration of librarians about that change. The decision—which was in favor of the publishers—will add to librarians’ frustrations. It will impoverish readers across the country seeking access to digital books, and over time diminish the library as a democratic institution that provides broad collections to everyone…This is a challenging state of affairs for librarians, however, who seek to serve readers of all means in equitable ways. Libraries have dramatically increased their spending on e-books but still cannot come close to meeting demand, which unsurprisingly rose during the pandemic. Because publishers view each circulation of a library e-book as a potential missed sale, they have little incentive to reduce costs for libraries or make it easier for libraries to lend digital copies…”

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