The House Judiciary Subcommittee has just released a report considering antitrust problems in the technology industries. When technology companies have become so successful, scrutiny from the government has become inevitable. Some sort of regulation seems almost certain.

TeleRead sends an early analysis of the Report by Chris Meadows, who, we are sorry to note, last week suffered an extremely serious bike accident in Indianapolis. He was riding an electric bike when he was hit by an SUV which fled the scene. He’s back on a respirator and is fighting for his life. Best wishes.

Mr Meadows comes at this Report from a library-lending-of-ebooks perspective. The battle lines here are clear. Librarians think ebooks are too expensive and resent limits on lending imposed by publishers as part of their terms of sale. Publishers fear, to put it at its most extreme, that a single ebook, released on the world without any control, could entirely replace demand for the book, so you could in theory end up selling only a single copy. Clearly the Judiciary Committee is focussed primarily on somewhat bigger game (Amazon, Facebook, Google, Apple), but library lending could possibly get impacted as collateral “damage”. Damage because a bold decision in favor of either side would clearly damage the other. Is there a compromise position?

Book publishers did have an antitrust run-in with the government before when they were shown to have colluded over pricing of ebooks at Apple. Agency pricing was the solution to the problem. Antitrust judgement has tended over the past fifty years to focus on whether this or that arrangement is good for the public. Clearly the public would benefit from having easier access to ebooks in their library, as they would from lower prices. The current rules under which publishers supply ebooks to libraries mean that you often have to get on line and wait while one reader “returns” the ebook, so you can as next on line be allowed access. — Sound a bit like putting a reserve on a hard copy book? But clearly the public also benefits from a viable and thriving publishing industry, so any decision which jeopardizes the health of publishing companies would not be in the long-term interest of the public. One has to imagine that there’s a compromise available. Increased funding for libraries is probably fundamental, then some sort of compensatory payments to publishers and authors could be arranged in return for expanded access to ebooks. 

LATER: Chris Meadows died on 14 October at the age of 47. What a loss. Here is TeleRead‘s obituary.

Let us remember the fact that he was the victim of a hit-and-run by an SUV while he was riding his bike. What can be done about such immorality?