A White Paper on Controlled Digital Lending of Library Books
Hansen , David R.; Kyle K. Courtney
Abstract: This paper is about how libraries can legally lend digital copies of books. It explains the legal and policy rationales for the process— “controlled digital lending”— as well as a variety of risk factors and practical considerations that can guide libraries seeking to implement such lending. We write this paper in support of the Position Statement on Controlled Digital Lending, a document endorsed by many libraries, librarians, and legal experts. Our goal is to help libraries and their lawyers become more comfortable with the concept by more fully explaining the legal rationale for controlled digital lending, as well as situations in which this rationale is the strongest.
For this paper we define “controlled digital lending” (CDL) just as the Statement does:
CDL enables a library to circulate a digitized title in place of a physical one in a controlled manner. Under this approach, a library may only loan simultaneously the number of copies that it has legitimately acquired, usually through purchase or donation. For example, if a library owns three copies of a title and digitizes one copy, it may use CDL to circulate one digital copy and two print, or three digital copies, or two digital copies and one print; in all cases, it could only circulate the same number of copies that it owned before digitization. Essentially, CDL must maintain an “owned to loaned” ratio. Circulation in any format is controlled so that only one user can use any given copy at a time, for a limited time. Further, CDL systems generally employ appropriate technical measures to prevent users from retaining a permanent copy or distributing additional copies.
Thus, CDL would permit circulation of copies equal to those that had been legitimately acquired by the participating libraries. When the digital copy is being read by a patron, however, the corresponding physical copy is restricted and unavailable for consultation, so there is no situation in which the library is getting use of two copies for the price of one. A library can lend a physical book to a patron through standard circulation or to another library through interlibrary loan. What CDL does do is shift that lending to a new format that opens up access possibilities for readers with disabilities, physical access limitations, research efficiency needs, or other needs for digitally-accessible content.