“Lending” Institutions

The Impact of the E-Book on the American Library System

The sharing of knowledge, specifically through the evolution of li-brary systems, is an essential part of modern democracy and is governed in America by the First Amendment and by copyright law. In recent years, however, the circulation of e-books—text in electronic format read via specialized equipment and software—has created a potential chal-lenge to traditional notions of copyright protection. In this note, the au-thor analyzes the compatibility of the e-book with the American library system as it currently exists through empirical data on the use and expert opinion of e-books in public and academic libraries. Heralded in previ-ous years as the next major advance of the “reading experience,” the e-book has not lived up to expectations and is often criticized because of the many usage limitations imposed by digital-rights management software. Many questions regarding the legality of this type of software and its permissible manipulation are currently unanswered. This is perhaps best evidenced by the case of the Russian computer company Elcomsoft, which was criminally prosecuted under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act for developing software capable of “cracking” the protection on e-books. The company was ultimately cleared. The debate over the interaction between this new form of book and copyright law has undoubtedly impacted public perception of e-books. Hence, the author conducted empirical research to determine the effect of such unresolved issues by posing questions to different types of libraries throughout the country. From this research, the author concludes that e-books still possess some potential in American libraries if the technology becomes more focused on readers and if electronic publishers relax some of the use restrictions currently afforded to them by law.

The full text of this Note is available to download as a PDF.