Victory on ebook restrictions

Stephen Grace, Deputy Head of Library and Learning Resources at London South Bank University.

Stephen leads the team that manages library and archive collections and systems.

The #ebooksos campaign has brought to wider attentions many problems in the ebook/extextbook market, and it may not be easy to resolve them all in a hurry, so I am pleased to report one problem can be removed from that list.

From early November 2020, we noticed at LSBU that ebooks published by Pearson and bought via ProQuest’s Ebook Central had entirely removed the ability to print or download portions of the book. In some cases we had only recently bought a copy of the same title that had a 5% allowance for printing and downloading. We were very unhappy with the licence conditions for the affected books, which I believed it to be illegal under UK copyright legislation. The law states that what it calls Technical Protection Measures (more usually called Digital Rights Management) cannot override exceptions that enable things like research or text mining.

I made a complaint to Pearson on 19 April which set out why we thought their licence change was unfair and illegal, demanding redress and threatening to escalate if need be. Pearson responded promptly and took the complaint seriously, especially when I explained the impact on students, and I had a couple of positive conversations about the issue with a senior manager. 

The end result of these discussions is that Pearson has reverted to its previous licence, and ALL books sold via ProQuest since early November will once again let students print or download reasonable portions (5%). 

If you find another publisher institutes TPM/DRM which entirely prevents actions covered by the law, you might find the [attached] template useful in making a complaint. It sets out some of the legal “exceptions” which give libraries and their users rights that cannot be waived away, and it talks about the impact where such lawful activity is denied. If you do not get redress, there is a special process where you can complain to the Government for formal action – guidance on this is at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/technological-protection-measures-tpms-complaints-process

Those outside the UK should check their own copyright legislation for discussion of TPM/DRM and exceptions, and make similar use to assert their rights.

Template letter

Dear [Publisher]

I am writing to complain about the Technical Protection Measures (TPM) included in several ebooks recently purchased by library] for its students, and to seek restitution.

The ebooks we have purchased via [supplier] have TPMs which prevent any and all printing and downloading. Since these actions are rights clearly enshrined in the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 (as amended) we believe your TPMs are not legal. We require replacement of the ebooks detailed below with copies that allow a student to print and download a reasonable amount. The ebook versions we recently purchased do not allow our students, academics and librarians to exercise their rights under the following sections of the Act:

  • S29 supports research and private study: students like to print small portions of ebooks to review and annotate content during their studies
  • S29A supports text and data analysis for non-commercial research: academics like to undertake research across a range of publications which requires them to download them for further analysis
  • S31A supports copies of works for personal use by disabled persons: visually impaired and neurodiverse students may find it useful to print portions to read them, or use adaptive technology such as screen readers
  • S36 supports educational establishments to copy and use extracts of works: our academics may want to share up to 5% of a book for the purposes of instruction using a secure network, since the vast majority of university teaching is happening remotely as a result of coronavirus regulations
  • S41 supports copying by libraries to other libraries: our library staff wish to offer legal copies of reasonable proportions to other libraries, as part of reciprocal arrangements which benefit all our users
  • S42A supports libraries to make copies: library staff wish to make single copies of reasonable proportions of an ebook in response to a request from a user

If we have not received acceptable replacement copies for the following ebooks by [date], I shall make a complaint to the Secretary of State for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy under the formal process outlined at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/technological-protection-measures-tpms-complaints-process.

[Provide a list of affected ebooks]


All at #ebooksos are really grateful to Stephen for taking on this issue. What a great result!