COVID-19 and US Libraries: e-Books and intellectual property issues

(28 Apr 2020)  The Congressional Research Service (US) has published a new report, “COVID-19 and Libraries: E-Books and Intellectual Property Issues”, its introduction as follows.

With many states issuing stay-at-home orders, and many public library buildings closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, members of the public looking for reading material have increasingly turned to ebooks. Yet even before the pandemic, libraries faced challenges in meeting patron demand for e-books. For example, in November 2019 the Washington Post reported months-long wait times to borrow high-demand e-books from major public libraries. The legal framework for lending physical books is different than that for e-books. While a library may generally lend a physical copy of a book in any manner it chooses, under current law a library may only lend an e-book in the manner approved by the copyright holder (usually the publisher). Thus, for example, the publisher may limit the length of time during which the library may lend the e-book, the number of times the e-book may be checked out, or both. These limitations may restrict a library’s ability to meet patron demand. This Sidebar explains how copyright law governs e-book lending; describes how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected e-book accessibility; and outlines some possible legal approaches Congress may consider.

Download the full report here.