May 25, 2022

“COVID-19 and Libraries: E-Books and Intellectual Property Issues” (New Report from the Congressional Research Service)

A new “Legal Sidebar” report from the Congressional Research Service.

From the Introduction:

With many states issuing stay-at-home orders, and many public library buildings closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, members of the public looking for reading material have increasingly turned to ebooks. Yet even before the pandemic, libraries faced challenges in meeting patron demand for e-books.

For example, in November 2019 the Washington Post reported months-long wait times to borrow high demand e-books from major public libraries. The legal framework for lending physical books is different than that for e-books. While a library may generally lend a physical copy of a book in any manner it chooses, under current law a library may only lend an e-book in the manner approved by the copyright holder (usually the publisher). Thus, for example, the publisher may limit the length of time during which the library may lend the e-book, the number of times the e-book may be checked out, or both. These limitations may restrict a library’s ability to meet patron demand.

This Sidebar explains how copyright law governs e-book lending; describes how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected e-book accessibility; and outlines some possible legal approaches Congress may consider.

Direct to Full Text Report (5 pages; PDF)

See Also: More than 200 New COVID-19 Related Reports from the Congressional Research Service and Research Organizations in Australia, Canada, EU, and UK. 

About Gary Price

Gary Price ( is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.