“But just as the Web increased people’s access to information exponentially, an opposite trend has evolved. Global media corporations—emboldened by the expansive copyright laws they helped craft and the emerging technology that reaches right into our reading devices—are exerting absolute control over digital information. These two conflicting forces—towards unfettered availability and completely walled access to information—have defined the last 25 years of the Internet. How we handle this ongoing clash will define our civic discourse in the next 25 years. If we fail to forge the right path, publishers’ business models could eliminate one of the great tools for democratizing society: our independent libraries.
These are not small mom-and-pop publishers: a handful of publishers dominate all books sales and distribution including trade books, ebooks, and text books. Right now, these corporate publishers are squeezing libraries in ways that may render it impossible for any library to own digital texts in five years, let alone 25. Soon, librarians will be reduced to customer service reps for a Netflix-like rental catalog of bestsellers. If that comes to pass, you might as well replace your library card with a credit card. That’s what these billion-dollar-publishers are pushing.
The libraries I grew up with would buy books, preserve them, and lend them for free to their patrons. If my library did not have a particular book, then it would borrow a copy from another library for me. In the shift from print to digital, many commercial publishers are declaring each of these activities illegal: they refuse libraries the right to buy ebooks, preserve ebooks, or lend ebooks. They demand that libraries license ebooks for a limited time or for limited uses at exorbitant prices, and some publishers refuse to license audiobooks or ebooks to libraries at all, making those digital works unavailable to hundreds of millions of library patrons….”