General Question

joshisradd's avatar

How are libraries legal?

Asked by joshisradd (238points) September 3rd, 2008 from iPhone

arnt they just the physical version of say, the pirate bay? Are we not takin money out of authors hands?

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17 Answers

tinyfaery's avatar

Good Q. I think if someone proposed the idea of a library at this point in time there is no way it would happen

flyawayxxballoon's avatar

My guess is that the idea of a library is to be a place for study & resources, and a place where people who can’t afford to purchase books can still read. I’m not saying that libraries are actually used like this, because obviously, a library does exactly what you said; people who don’t really need the library use it, and it’s “taking money out of authors’ hangs.”

Like tiny said, if the idea of a library was first proposed today, there’s no chance that they would be allowed.

McBean's avatar

I wonder, though…many of the books on my Amazon wish list are books that I’ve checked out, thoroughly enjoyed, and decided that I just had to have. That goes for novels and plenty of children’s books, as well as reference and cookbooks. They are sales that may have never been made. (I realize this isn’t exactly answering the question.)

BirdlegLeft's avatar

Well, they don’t operate for a profit, and I’m not sure if they have to buy the books in the first place. I suppose some are donated by the publishing companies. I thought I had a point when I started but I guess I don’t.

Allie's avatar

I’m with you on the whole profit thing, BirdlegLeft. And the books aren’t yours to keep and do what you want with. If you keep the book, you get charged for it. And then they buy another to replace it.

PupnTaco's avatar

Good question. In a way, it is the same idea – one person (or entity) buys the original and distributes it.

The difference comes with duplication. Note it’s illegal to Xerox a library book – most libraries even have a notice about copyright.

Pirating music is duplicating, not sharing the physical original.

Allie's avatar

Good point, PnT.

joshisradd's avatar

I didn’t think of the duplication aspect, although I still can’t help but imagine how much revinue authors loose. I mean think of harry potter for example. It used to have waiting lists in libraries. I think it would be safe to say that At least 60% of those would have been sales for the author. If my source of income was selling my book, then that wouldn’t sound like a very good deal.

jballou's avatar

@joshisradd – If the idea of a library was brand new in this day and age, then I might agree with you, but since they have existed since before ancient Greece, I don’t think any modern author has any real ground to stand on to protest libraries eating into their profits. It’s just sort of a reality of publishing. The few published authors I know are actually proud to have their work in a local library.

To try to answer the original question, libraries exist and are legal because they predate any and all copyright laws. They predate books themselves because they were around before the printing press was ever invented. The real idea behind the library is the preservation of knowledge. It’s really much more akin to the internet then anything else. Libraries are based on the assumption that knowledge should be readily available and accessible. With the relatively modern advent of copyright law, libraries conform in the ways mentioned above, by prohibiting the duplication of their materials (not that libraries are unique in this way- duplication would be illegal even if libraries didn’t explicitly say so) and they aren’t breaking any laws at all. If there was another organization that had the support that the public library system has and they were dedicated to providing free “rentals” of video games or movies or music- they would be legal as well. Without that support, however, they wouldn’t be able to sustain themselves. Libraries are not a business and do not make money, which is exactly why they are legal.

marinelife's avatar

Libraries are legal because they buy the books they house. They do not resell books. The correct analogy would be you lending a book to a friend. Is that a lost sale to the author? Yes. Is it legal? Yes.

susanc's avatar

Great question, great discussion.

tWrex's avatar

@PupnTaco Ok. So it’s illegal to copy books, and I get that, but here’s my quandary. Why do libraries have copy machines where you can take a book page and copy it for a book report? I just remember doing this as a kid – even being told to do so by a librarian – and I think the local library still has a copy machine, but this just kinda made me wonder whether or not it’s the whole work that’s the issue or if you’re using it for a specific purpose and only a certain amount of pages it makes it ok.

Lightlyseared's avatar

they pay for a licence to allow copying usually 5% of a book.

tWrex's avatar

@Lightlyseared Sweet! Thanks for that answer! Now I know something else useless, but interesting – but only slightly interesting since it’s about books.

robmandu's avatar

Just a hunch… but since libraries are public institutions, they’re funded with taxpayer monies. As a resident of an area that funds your local library, your taxes are paying for the service. So, kinda like Netflix®, you’re just using a service to borrow/rent something you’ve paid for.

Anyone try to check out a book from a public library outside their area of residence? Do they charge a fee?

Lightlyseared's avatar

In the UK you can only become a library member if you live, work or study in the area. They usually want proof ie a bill or letter form employer/school.

tWrex's avatar

It’s the same here – at least in Illinois. You have to prove residency. Some libraries collaborate or are part of the same system so you can use them all, but aside from that you have to prove residency.

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