I suppose the subject pretty much covers it but I’ll add that I’m not asking whether it’s a wise decision either morally or financially.
Not sure I understand the question. Are you wondering if publishers can restrict usage simply because they own the copyright?
There was a recent thread on this. The answer is simple: no.
Copyright only applies if you’re making copies. If no copies are made, copyright doesn’t apply.
There are issues with books in electronic format (lending those is making a copy), but with an actual hardcover or softcover book, the person who buys it can do anything with it except make additional copies. This includes lending or selling it.
I’m fairly certain libraries enjoy some exemptions (limited no doubt) to existing copyright laws. That is a vague memory however and IANAL so hopefully someone will be along to clear that up.
As to copyrights I also have a sneaking suspicion they are more complex than appear at first glance. I know some software you “buy” is not actually owned by you. The copyright holder is extending a license to use their product and as such they can attach all sorts of restrictions as to what you can legally do to/with it (including being non-transferrable to someone else). Maybe such things can’t be done with books or maybe they just don’t bother. Once again a lawyer will need to stop by and lay it out (I only mention this to push some talking points).
So far as I know there’s nothing in the law that would prevent a publisher from licensing books. The problem is that people expect to be able to buy books and they might not go for a license, especially if the publisher tries to tell them they can’t lend, sell, or give away a book, or, even worse, that periodically they have to pay more money to renew the license.
OK, let’s get one thing straight and simple for those not paying attention:
Copyright only applies to MAKING A COPY. That’s why it’s called “copyright” – the right to make a copy.
If you’re not making copies, copyright doesn’t apply. Period. End of discussion.
A book – the physical object that you hold in your hand – can be disposed of in any way you want. You can lend it, sell it, burn it, eat it, drop it in the ocean, or do anything you want with it. Why? Because you’re not making a copy of it. Copyright law does not apply.
Now, software is different; in order to install it, you are making a copy. Thus, copyright law applies. Same thing if the library wants to make a copy to use as an archive (they can do this, though others cannot). But those are separate issue.
However, the OP asked “Can a publisher prohibit public libaries from lending its copyrighted books?” The answer is no. Why?
Because you are not making a copy. :rolleyes:
U.S. copyright law specifically gives broader “fair use” copying privileges to libraries than are available to the general public.
Yes, I should have made that clear – a license is separate from the copyright issues. A license is a contract.
But in the case of software, even though copyright law is implicated by the making of copies, the license is not superfluous. It is usually giving the software developer many more rights than it would have under copyright protection.
For example, many licenses say that you must have permission before using the software for benchmarking or for writing critical reviews (whether this will ultimately be enforceable is besides the point). Most software licenses disclaim all warranties and any liability from damages caused by use of the software. The license might say that you are only allowed to install the software on one machine (under coypright law, you might be able to install it on more than one machine, even though it does constitute the making of a copy). And so on …
Actually, a publisher might be able to do so, by licensing a book rather than selling it to the library. Now, the library might or might not agree to such a contract, but it’s not unthinkable.
Theoretically, so long as you are not keeping a copy of the software on your own hard drive, you might be able to “sell it, burn it, eat it, drop it in the ocean or do anything you want with it.” But they stop you from doing so, not because of copyright law, but because of the contract (that is, the licensing agreement).