Renting Textbooks in Australia

Copyright Advocacy

Does renting printed textbooks breach copyright in Australia? What about eBooks?

A recent newspaper article suggested renting printed textbooks breaches copyright in Australia.

Renting pirate copies, or books that have been illegally imported, might breach copyright. Renting books that have been legitimately purchased don’t. The position is different for music CDs and computer programs. For more, see the Copyright Council’s information sheet ‘Renting items protected by copyright’, available here.

The legal environment can be different in other countries. In the US, for example, a copyright owner’s control over distribution of an item with copyright content (such as a printed book or a CD) is ‘exhausted’ when that item is first sold. In a recent decision, the Supreme Court held that a person could resell textbooks that had been legitimately purchased in Thailand and imported into the US. The relevant ‘first sale’ was the first sale in Thailand, not the first sale in the US. See further here.

The legal situation for ‘renting’ eBooks is different. It will be affected by the process (e.g. whether it involves additional copies), and relevant contractual arrangements. The Australian Publishers Association has been in contact with a company whose ‘eBook rental’ arrangements have been problematic.


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