A Maryland lawmaker plans to introduce legislation next year that would ban discriminatory business practices by book publishers when they sell e-books to public libraries.
Del. Eric Luedtke, a Democrat from Montgomery County, tells Governing that the bill is in the early drafting stages. It will be finalized in the fall and introduced when the Maryland General Assembly reconvenes in January 2014. While some of the specifics are still being worked out, Luedtke says the bill will aim to prevent publishers from charging exorbitant prices to libraries for e-books or placing onerous conditions on those purchases.
“My hope is to be able to explicitly ban the discriminatory practices that libraries are seeing,” he says. “We're going to have to push the issue at the state level until Congress steps or until the industry wises up.”
Maryland Sen. Karen Montgomery, who also represents Montgomery County, says she is exploring the possibility of drafting a bill in her chamber as well.
Luedtke’s plan follows a resolution passed in late July by the Montgomery County Council, which called on the state legislature, U.S. Congress, U.S. Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission to investigate the alleged discrimination in e-book sales against libraries. The county staff extensively cited Governing’s July cover story on the issue, which documented the high prices (sometimes eight times the regular retail price) and new restrictions that libraries face when purchasing e-books from major publishers.
The U.S. Justice Department said it has not yet taken any action on the issue. Requests for comment from the Federal Trade Commission were not returned. The legislative staff for U.S. Rep. John Delaney (D-Md.), who represents much of Montgomery County, has begun research into the issue, but no legislation is imminent.
Luedtke acknowledges that a bill might not have enough legal teeth to stop the practices, noting that a similar bill in Connecticut was eventually scaled back to just calling for a study of the issue. But he says his hope is that it would raise public awareness and place greater pressure on publishers and federal authorities to take action.
“Most people don't realize this is happening,” Luedtke says. “If you come to a community like mine, where the library is a pillar of the community, there are still a lot of library users who aren't aware of the issue at all.”