EU Court Decides in Favor of Ebook Lending; FEP Responds

In Feature Articles by Hannah Johnson4 Comments

The Federation of European Publishers argues that a recent EU court decision in favor of ebook lending through public libraries could negatively affect ebook sales.

By Hannah Johnson | @hannahsjohnson

Ruling: Ebook Lending ‘Essentially Similar’ to Print
On Thursday (November 10), the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) ruled that public libraries can lend ebooks, provided that authors are fairly compensated.

The decision also said that ebook lending under the “one copy, one user” model is consistent with a 2006 EU directive on rental and lending rights of IP.

This judgment is part of a case brought by the Vereniging Openbare Bibliotheken (VOB), a Dutch library association, against Stichting Leenrecht, a rights collection agency for authors. The VOB requested that the rules governing ebook lending through public libraries should be the same as those for print books, and that libraries should be allowed to lend books according to the “one copy, one user” model.

Under this model, a single digital ebook is downloaded by a single user. When the lending period is over, the ebook can no longer be accessed by that user, and another patron may download a copy of the ebook.

The case was brought before the District Court of The Hague, which asked the CJEU in April 2015 to clarify whether the VOB’s request complied with the EU’s 2006 directive.

In a press statement, the CJEU has clarified that this directive gives authors “the exclusive right to authorize or prohibit such rentals and loans,” but stipulates that EU member states do not need author permission for public lending of works, provided that authors are fairly compensated.

The CJEU summarized its decision saying that “there is no decisive ground allowing for the exclusion, in all cases, of the lending of digital copies and intangible objects from the scope of the directive.”

The summary goes on say that “copyright must adapt to new economic developments.”

The Court also ruled that the “one copy, one user” model “has essentially similar characteristics to the lending of printed works” and is thereby permissible under the 2006 directive.

Federation of European Publishers’ Response

federation-of-european-publishers-logoAlso on Thursday, the Federation of European Publishers (FEP) issued a response disagreeing with the CJEU judgement, which it called “a shock for the book-publishing community.”

The FEP argues that digital and print formats need to be treated differently for three reasons:

  • Lending an ebook “in fact means copying”;
  • Borrowing an ebook “resembles the experience of buying an ebook”; and
  • In Europe’s nascent ebook markets, “it’s hard to compete in a market in which virtually the identical product is available for free.”

To that last point, the FEP writes that “Ebooks offered free by libraries might have a particularly heavy impact on smaller language areas, such as Lithuania, Latvia, Slovenia, Romania, and others where the national book markets are limited due to small population and multilingual societies, and where currently, the ebook market doesn’t even constitute 1 percent of the book market.”

How can libraries and publishers solve some of these issues?

The FEP says that “technical measures are required” to ensure adherence to the “one copy, one user” model. They want assurance that ebooks are, in fact, returned, and that only one copy is lent out a time.

The FEP writes that it “will be working with the European institutions…in order to ensure that the negative impact of this decision is not exacerbated, jeopardizing the European publishers’ capacity to continue to contribute to publishing diverse and high-quality books.”

Read the complete CJEU summary here, and the FEP response here.

About the Author

Hannah Johnson

Hannah Johnson is the Publisher of Publishing Perspectives. Before joining PP in 2009, she worked as Project Manager at the German Book Office New York. Find her on Twitter @hannahsjohnson.


  1. In a nutshell, the FEP is fretting about the need for better copy protection for those loaned ebooks. That’s certainly an issue, but it hardly seems one to go ballistic over. The copy protection on a commercially sold ebook can be broken with commonly available tools. It seems of little importance whether one retail sale is decrypted and a 100 copies passed around, or whether a copy purchased by the library and loaned for free is decrypted and a similar 100 copies made. In either case the publisher is out the revenue from 100 sales after making but one sale. Both are bad, but they’re not bad in different ways.

    Some changes you simply have to live with. In recent years, I’ve been publishing all my books in print and digital. I see little point in fretting that the latter are easier to copy. The only real fix for that would be to not publish digitally. That I don’t want to do.

    –Michael W. Perry, Inkling Books

  2. Perhaps there are simpler solutions to this challenge. We are working with two new library lending models that have the potential to make everyone happy. 1) Pay-per-checkout. Under this model, the library can present millions of books to its patrons. Each time a book is checked out the library pays the publisher a fee. The library doesn’t have to purchase anything in advance. Their patrons make the decision on what to read. And best of all, there is an unlimited number of copies that can be checked out simultaneously to meet demand. 2) Expiring purchases. With this model, the license to lend the eBook expires after a certain period of time or perhaps after a certain number of checkouts. This approximates the shelf life of a printed book which in a public library setting with disappear or deteriorate over time. As digital formats continue to evolve, authors and publishers will continue to find equitiable ways to reach library patrons.

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