Libraries and Publishers: Confrontation instead of Teamwork? Christian Sprang in an Interview
Even though libraries and publishers pursue the same goal – to provide information – their relationship is sometimes so tense that conflicts have to be settled before courts. The Chairwomen of the German Library Association, Monika Ziller, and Dr. Christian Sprang, legal advisor to the German Publishers and Booksellers Association, give their views on an occasionally difficult relationship.
Mr Sprang, how would you describe the relationship between publishers and libraries?
I’d describe the basic relationship between publishers and libraries as good and mainly constructive, even if there are here and there fields of conflict. In particular, there exists a very close and fruitful cooperation between the Publishers and Booksellers Association and the German National Library if only for historical reasons.
The meeting of publishers and libraries before a court of law is happily the exception. And yet such trials can sometimes be unavoidable. In this way, for example, the scope of statutory copyright limitations can be clarified and legal certainty, in which both parties have a mutual interest, ensured. Fortunately, personal animosities are never bound up with such trials.
As is shown, for example, by the case of the Subito document delivery service, which twice went as far as the Federal Supreme Court, there can still be fruitful cooperation even after years of litigation.
Concern about the sustainability of the publishing business
What are the central points of conflict?
The heart of the matter concerns the limits libraries must observe in making copyright protected works available to their users. Here digital versions of works naturally play an important part today, especially at universities and in research. While libraries are basically inclined to grant the widest possible access, publishers sometimes have to worry about the sustainability of their business. When the offerings of libraries and those of the publishers come into direct competition, the line has been crossed.
Are the interests of publishers and libraries in your view really very different?
As just described, their interests can sometimes diverge in daily practice. Nevertheless, more unites publishers and libraries than separates them. By archiving and preserving long out-of-print books, libraries safeguard our cultural heritage. They afford access to knowledge to all strata of society and thereby fulfil an important social and political mission. In many areas, as for example promoting reading, libraries and publishers work together so as to promote the cultural asset of the book. Libraries and publishers have the common goal of making as board as possible a selection of books accessible to as many readers as possible.
No competitive relationship
How would you like to see the relationship between libraries and publishers?
It’s important that libraries don’t come into competition with publishers, because that would endanger the production of up-dated editions and new books. In concrete terms, if a library violates copyright by making a current textbook or legal commentary digitally available to a user by a download, as recently happened in the case of the Technical University of Darmstadt, this book becomes for the publisher ultimately unsaleable. If costs can’t be covered by the sale of the current edition, there won’t be a new edition in future. That can’t be in the interest of the library or its user. We hope that libraries everywhere will realise this.
In your opinion, are contracts a solution that specifically tailor rights of use to the needs of libraries and lay down the precise access rights for certain groups of users?
Yes. The license contract is a flexible instrument which, on the basis of negotiations, can do justice to the needs of individual cases and to the interests of both parties. The parties to such agreements can also enter into special arrangements and so achieve a tailor-made solution. In addition, such agreements can be swiftly and accurately adapted to changes in the actual conditions. But here too one must remain always pragmatic and keep in view the amount of administrative effort that individual licensing causes. In addition to individual solutions between libraries and publishers, therefore, there will always be bundling deals through dealers and agents, and even the standardised licensing of certain uses through the Word Collecting Society shouldn’t be absolutely taboo.
Cooperation in promoting reading and digitalisation
Are there in your view positive examples of cooperation?
There is successful cooperation at various levels, and this has even been the rule for many years. For one thing, this pertains to the previously mentioned common interest in the promotion of the book and of reading. But practical questions such as the challenges posed by the digital revolution – for example, in the area of deposit or presentation copies – can best be solved jointly.
Further important examples are the reorganisation of electronic document delivery and regulatory proposals for joint solutions to the digitalising of out-of-print or unused works, which the German Digital Library is to support. Here much has been achieved together – and that wouldn’t have been possible without a trusting and constructive dialogue!
She is a freelance journalist based in Bonn.
Translated by Jonathan Uhlaner
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Online-Redaktion
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