Public Domain Status and E-books Availability: An International Study

The Elending Project is publishing another paper, this one exploring the effects of copyright and public domain on library e-book available.

Project Leader Rebecca Giblin of Monash University explains the paper as follows:

“In brief: there is a theory that, if works enter the public domain, they will be subject to less investment and will be less available than works that are still under copyright. This is known as 'the underuse hypothesis'. We tested this by examining the ebooks available to libraries across Canada and NZ (where they are in the public domain), Australia (where they're in copyright) and the US (where their status is mixed). This is the first study testing these questions beyond the US context, and the first one comparing the availability of identical titles across jurisdictions.

 So what did we find? Well, contrary to the underuse hypothesis, titles were more available, and considerably cheaper in the public domain countries. We also found that publishers are willing to compete with each other over the same titles. Sadly/unsurprisingly, most of our sampled authors had no ebooks available in any country regardless of copyright status, indicating that commercial life is often exhausted long before even the shortest terms expire, even where cultural value remains. The full paper is available here.”

ReadersFirst supports the work of The Elending Proejct and encourages reading and sharing of this paper. Could some sort of compromise be worked out with authors and publishers allowing controlled digital lending of older titles in “gray” copyright, just to ensure access and preservation? The questions is worth exploring.

Full disclosure: the author’s library allowed access to a library e-book vendor’s holdings in the USA for this study.