Back in 2012 a study “E-Lending Public Libraries”, carried out on behalf of the Dutch Ministry of OCW (Education, Culture and Science), concluded that the existing lending right regime of the Dutch copyright act did not apply to e-books. Moreover the study also concluded that the current European law and regulation framework does not offer enough space to allow for national regulations on e-lending. That same year there was also the Usedsoft EU ruling. The EU court explained that the principle of exhaustion of the distribution right applies not only where the copyright holder markets copies of his software on a material medium (CD-ROM or DVD) but also where he distributes them by means of downloads from his website.
For the Dutch VOB (Association of Public Libraries) these two conclusions were reason enough to start a trial lawsuit in an attempt to get a ruling of the European Court on the legal status of e-books and e-lending. The central question that needed to be answered was whether e-books should be regarded the same way as physical books and therefore also fall under the Dutch existing lending right regime of the Dutch copyright act. It’s adversary in the trial was Stichting Leenrecht, the organization that collects and distributes public lending right payments.
As usual in these matters, it took a few years. Finally at November 10th 2016 white smoke emerged from the EU court. The EU ruling explained that the lending of e-books by public libraries under the ‘one copy, one user’ model is allowed under the public lending right exception in EU law. The ‘one copy, one user’ model dictates that the lending of an e-book is carried out by placing the downloadable copy on the library’s server and is to be used by one user during the lending period, and will be deleted after the lending period has expired.
Both the UsedSoft and VOB ruling are examples of the slowly shifting view on e-content. In this case the ruling clearly states that the lending of an electronic book (e-book) may, under certain conditions, be treated in the same way as the lending of a traditional book. Summarizing the EU court has decided that an e-book is a book. Something we knew all along.