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Court strikes down law requiring publishers to provide e-books to libraries
June 15, 2022 |

Publishers group says ruling sends message to state legislatures considering similar laws

A federal court has ruled in favor of the Association of American Publishers, which had challenged a Maryland law requiring publishers to provide e-books to public libraries under “reasonable” terms.

Libraries have long balked at restrictions publishers place on the distribution of e-books and digital audiobooks. In 2021, Maryland passed a law requiring publishers to license electronic materials to libraries on reasonable terms. The legislation was hailed by the American Library Association as a model for other states to follow.

“Libraries have had reasonable access to print books for centuries; that same reasonability should extend to digital books as well,” ALA said in a statement last year.

However, AAP argued the law infringed on publishers’ rights to decide who has access to their copyrighted works as well as under what terms that access is granted. The association challenged the law in court.

U.S. District Judge Deborah Boardman issued a preliminary injunction against enforcement of the law in February. The judge struck the legislation down in its entirety in a June 13 decision, ruling it unconstitutional and unenforceable because it ran afoul of federal copyright law.

In a statement, AAP CEO Maria Pallante pointed to the court ruling, as well as New York Gov. Kathy Hochul’s veto of a similar law in her state, as sending a “two-fold message” to state legislatures.

“The encroachment was astonishing for its direct conflict with two centuries of federal law and its upheaval of an internet economy in which authors, artists, publishers and producers from around the world make their intellectual property available to consumers through a plethora of innovative formats and access models that also include more than a half a billion digital loans for library patrons in the United States alone,” she said.

Authors Guild CEO Mary Rasenberger joined Pallante in criticizing the law, saying her group instead supports increasing library funding so libraries can purchase more materials.

“Price regulation is a form of regulation that is very rarely applied in this country and for good reason; in this case it would undermine the value of literary works and the ecosystem that ensures that authors and publishers can keep publishing great books,” Rasenberger said in a statement.

The Maryland attorney general’s office declined to comment on the ruling when contacted by Reuters news agency.