A Maryland state bill that would ensure public libraries the right to license and lend e-books that are available to consumers in the state is now law.
In a May 28 letter to Maryland Senate president Bill Ferguson, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan informed legislators that the library e-book bill (HB518 in the House of Delegates and SB432 in the Senate) was among the many bills that would become law without the governor’s signature—normal procedure in the state, where the legislature typically passes hundreds of bills each session.
SB432 requires any publisher offering to license "an electronic literary product" to consumers in the state to also offer to license the content to public libraries "on reasonable terms" that would enable library users to have access. The bill is scheduled to take effect in January, 2022.
First introduced in January, SB432/HB518 passed the Maryland General Assembly unanimously on March 10. And despite opposition from the Association of American Publishers, which filed testimony in March claiming the law runs afoul of federal copyright law and is unconstitutional, the bills sailed through the reconciliation process with just two substantive changes: one that actually expanded the bill's reach to cover "electronic literary products" (rather than just e-books) and another that pushed the law's effective date to January, 2022, from July, 2021.
At the AAP's annual meeting this week, AAP CEO Maria Pallante doubled down on the organization's opposition, accusing library lobbyists and “tech-funded” special interest groups of working to “divert copyright protection away from Congress to state assemblies.” Pallante argued that state efforts like those in Maryland “are clearly preempted by the express language of the federal Copyright Act,” while also spinning a “false narrative.”
Library advocates, however, say that's not the case. "The bills prevent unreasonable discrimination against public libraries," Jonathan Band, a lawyer for the library community, told PW in March, explaining that the legislation simply provides that if a publisher licenses an e-book or other digital literary work to the public in Maryland, the publisher must also make a license available to public libraries as well.
"My take on it is that, if anything, [the law] is quite mild," observed Michael Blackwell, an organizer of the ReadersFirst coalition and a Maryland librarian who advocated for the law. "We just want access for Maryland (and by extension, all) readers. The publishers remain in charge of dictating terms."
In fact most publishers, including all of the Big Five, already make their full digital catalogs available to public libraries, although library leaders point out that the bill could complicate any potential future plans to embargo content in the digital library market, such as Macmillan did with new releases from its Tor imprint in 2018 and then briefly for its full catalog in November of 2019. In March, 2020, Macmillan abruptly abandoned its library embargo policy in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Digital content from Amazon, however, may be a different story. While Amazon Publishing announced last month that it will be making its digital content available to libraries via the Digital Public Library of America sometime this summer, it is unclear how the law might impact Amazon's exclusive content via services like Audible.
This article has been updated.