Civil Rights

Librarians call out big publishing’s “unfair, unconstitutional, anti-competitive e-book policy”

“Rhode Island library users are disproportionately hurt by Big Publishing’s unfair and potentially unconstitutional e-book practices,” says American Library Association Senior Director of Public Policy Alan Inouye. The Rhode Island Library Association (RILA), the American Library Association (ALA), local neighborhood librarians, and Rhode Island library patrons gathered at Cranston Central Library to speak up against “Big Publishing’s” unfair, unconstitutional, and

Published on March 3, 2020
By Steve Ahlquist

Rhode Island library users are disproportionately hurt by Big Publishing’s unfair and potentially unconstitutional e-book practices,” says American Library Association Senior Director of Public Policy Alan Inouye.


The Rhode Island Library Association (RILA), the American Library Association (ALA), local neighborhood librarians, and Rhode Island library patrons gathered at Cranston Central Library to speak up against “Big Publishing’s” unfair, unconstitutional, and anti-competitive practices that limit libraries’ ability to provide residents, taxpayers, and library patrons with full access to new publications.

“Library support in our state is high, and our patrons know the intrinsic value of being able to freely access books, movies, music, high-speed internet, educational classes, cultural programs, and more. Rhode Islanders particularly value our access to e-books,” said RILA President and Cranston Assistant Library Director Julie Holden. “When Big Publishing blocks libraries from buying e-books, they’re obstructing Rhode Islanders’ constitutional right to public libraries. Librarians are speaking up loudly against these unfair and unconstitutional practices, and we urge Rhode Island elected leaders to take action that forces Macmillan and Big Publishing to end their anti-library and anti-competitive practices.”

Rhode Island State Senator Mark McKenney (Democrat, District 30, Warwick) has filed legislation that would prohibit publishers setting any limits on the number of e-book and audiobook licenses a library can purchase.

“The bill I have filed simply requires publishing houses to offer libraries reasonable terms on electronic books and digital audio books. No more, no less,” said Senator McKenney. “Specifically, it precludes a publisher from limiting the number of e-book licenses libraries can obtain when new books come out. Libraries should be able to get these books in the same way as the public. It’s that simple.”

In November 2019, Macmillan Publishers put in place a new policy limiting libraries’ ability to purchase new e-books. Macmillan now sells only one copy of a newly released e-book title per library system. After eight weeks, libraries may purchase unlimited copies of the e-book for a two-year license. Because Rhode Island provides e-books to libraries through the Ocean State Library consortium, that means Macmillan limits one copy of a new e-book for the first eight weeks after publication for the entire state.

“The national response against Macmillan’s anti-library e-book policy has been overwhelming, and we are proud to stand with the Rhode Island Library Association to urge action that holds Macmillan accountable,” said ALA Senior Director of Public Policy Alan Inouye. “Rhode Island is a unique state with a single library system, a structure that provides library users with many benefits. But Rhode Island library users are disproportionately hurt by Big Publishing’s unfair and potentially unconstitutional e-book practices. ALA sees Rhode Island as a model for the rest of the nation on how to stand up against Big Publishing and work toward restoring library users’ equitable access to e-books.”

The Rhode Island Library Association signed on to the American Library Association’s #eBooksForAll campaign last year. At the press conference today, RILA spoke out on the Big Publishing policies to educate lawmakers and other elected officials, public advocates, library users, and the general public. In the weeks ahead, RILA will continue to speak out and inform library users about Macmillan’s and Big Publishing’s unfair and unconstitutional practice. Through their outreach, RILA aims to inspire a broad coalition to take a range of actions blocking Macmillan’s and other publishers’ unfair practices directed toward libraries.

In February, RILA held a roundtable meeting with United States Representative David Cicilline (Democrat, District 1) to discuss steps Congress can take to ensure that publishers cannot discriminate against libraries and library users. Following that meeting, Congressman Cicilline said he “look[s] forward to continuing our work together as the investigation wraps up and legislative fixes are introduced later this year.”

In addition to meeting with Congressman Cicilline, RILA board members will meet with the Office of the Attorney General in the weeks ahead to discuss Macmillan’s potential violations of Rhode Islander’s constitutional rights and individual RILA members will request meetings with mayors and town managers to encourage local leaders to sign on with #eBooksForAll.

“The United States’ public library system is considered by many to be our most democratic institution, providing the public equitable and full access to information. Cranston has a rich history of public libraries with our first, the Auburn Public Library, opening in 1888,” said Cranston Mayor Allan Fung. “Cranston is fortunate to have six vibrant branches, which provide access to library services throughout the city. The limitation of the licensing of e-books to libraries would undermine the basic mission of the library to promote and provide free literacy, access and opportunity to all Rhode Islanders.”

For more information on the American Library Association’s #eBooksForAll campaign, visit https://ebooksforall.org/


Can you help Uprise RI?

Funding for our reporting relies on the generosity of readers like you. Our independence allows us to write stories that hold RI state and local government officials accountable. All of our stories are free and available to everyone. But your support is essential to keeping Steve on the beat, covering the costs of reporting our stories. If you are able to, please support us. Every contribution, big or small is so valuable. You provide the motivation and financial support to keep doing what we do. Thank you.




[From a press release and original reporting]

More Civil Rights Coverage