EU Court Decides in Favor of Ebook Lending; FEP Responds

In Feature Articles by Hannah Johnson

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 international book industry magazine Publishing Perspectives, which provides daily information and news about book markets around the world. In addition to building partnerships with international cultural and trade organizations, she works with the Frankfurt Book Fair to organize and support a number of its overseas initiatives. Hannah has also worked as the managing editor for an online media company, The Hooch Life, focused on craft distillers and cocktail experts. Prior to that, she worked as a project manager for the Frankfurt Book Fair’s New York office, managing various business and marketing activities.