On July 16, 2018, the Authors Guild filed official comments with the Copyright Office on a proposed regulation for the “mandatory deposit” of ebooks for the Library of Congress’s collections.
The question of “mandatory deposit” is relevant to authors because the Copyright Act requires copyright owners to deposit copies of books and other published works with the Library of Congress within three months of the date the work is published—whether or not the books are registered. Copyright owners often make the required deposits when applying for copyright registration (after reviewing the work for registration purposes, the copies provided to the Copyright Office are transferred to the Library’s collection), or they can just send in two copies for deposit without registering their copyright. The latter option is what is known as “mandatory deposit,” as compared to “registration deposit.” When it comes to print books, two copies are required and end up with the Library of Congress.
In 2010, the Copyright Office passed an interim rule exempting “published electronic works available only online” from the mandatory deposit requirement except where the Library actually requests them. The Library then started testing this new deposit on demand system by accepting e-journals through e-deposit, since so many important scholarly publications had started to be published only online.
The current proposed regulation would finalize the interim rule and would extend it to books published only as ebooks. Since that includes such a vast number of books these days, including many of the hundreds of thousands of books self-published on Kindle and other platforms every year, the Copyright Office’s proposed regulation would require ebooks be deposited only if the Library (through the Copyright Office) specifically requests them.
In principle, the Authors Guild supports extending mandatory deposit to books published only as ebooks. An increasing number of important books today are only published online or through print on demand. There is no less reason for the Library of Congress to collect and preserve books simply because they are published in electronic format and not in paper. And the number of culturally and historically important texts published only as ebooks will inevitably increase in the coming years. If the Library of Congress does not start acquiring these texts soon, there will be a gaping hole in the Library’s collections.
The Guild is concerned, however, that the Library has not yet fully developed strategies and technologies for properly collecting, storing, cataloging, and preserving ebooks en masse. Most concerning is the lack of fully developed security measures to safely store ebooks and protect them from being released on the internet. One can easily imagine a vigilante hacker scraping the Library’s entire ebook repository and creating an off-shore platform akin to Sci-Hub to make all books available free to the world. Until a comprehensive e-collection strategy is developed and put in place—and, in particular, until the security of ebooks can be ensured—we believe it is premature for the Library to start collecting them.