Friday, July 16, 2021

Controlled Digital Lending (CDL): making knowledge available to everyone everywhere.


The practice of controlled lending in libraries goes many years back. Libraries were already helping their users by providing documents they require within the existing copyright laws. In the pandemic when many libraries remained closed. Still, millions of digitized books were available for free to be borrowed by readers and learners everywhere at their places. The CDL has become a buzzword in the library community during the Covid-19 pandemic. Many library communities and associations across the world have supported the practice of CDL in libraries. The use of the term “Controlled Digital Lending” first appeared in "Position Statement on Controlled Digital Lending by Libraries", published in 2018.

IFLA’s Statement on Controlled Digital Lending, which was approved by IFLA’s Governing Board in May 2021, has been endorsed  by 55 institutions and 120 individual copyright experts and librarians, strongly support the practice of CDL. 

The Internet Archive’s Open Libraries program is also powered by CDL. Internet Archive has been doing this practice of CDL (lending one digital copy to one user at a time) since 2011. It is a pioneer of CDL. According to the Internet Archive “By digitizing books, we unlock them for communities with limited or no access, creating a lifeline to trusted information. The Internet Archive’s Open Libraries project will bring four million books online, through purchase or digitization, while honoring the rights of creators and expanding their online reach.” 

What is Controlled Digital Lending (CDL)?

Controlled Digital Lending is the process through which the libraries legally lend the digital copies of books in a controlled environment to prevent users from redistributing or copying the digital versions. 


"Controlled digital lending (CDL) is a framework under which the Libraries can scan up to the full text of print work in our possession and lend it electronically." (

Why CDL?

Many print books that are not available online, either out of print or difficult to find, are still in copyright. So the users are not getting the benefit of such books. CDL is the effort by librarians across the world to fix the problem. When readers need access to such print books, the library scans the digital copy of the book that it owns and provides access to digital copy in a restricted environment to prevent readers from copying and redistributing the digital copy.

The legal part related to CDL

CDL enables the circulation of copies equal to those that had been legitimately acquired by the libraries. For example, if a library has four copies of a title then it can only lend four copies of its digital version to the users. The library can also do it in another manner like, if three print copies are circulated to the users, then only one copy of the digital version of it can be circulated to one user at a time. When the digital copy is being read by a user then for that period even if, the fourth copy of the title is there in a library, it is restricted for the other user until the digital version lending time limit is up for the user reading the copy. When the electronic version is “checked out” the physical copy of the book becomes unavailable and vice versa. The no. of copies to be circulated irrespective of the format of title can not exceed the no. of copies library owned legally. This is to avoid the situation that, the library paying for one copy and providing more than one copy for use. In this way, CDL is permissible under existing copyright law.

To prevent the infringement of authors’ and publishers’ copyrights, a library can only lend a digital copy (copy of a book it owns legally) out to one person at a time, and that the copy distributed to a reader cannot be accessed after the loan expires.

According to the above, there are three points to be noted before proceeding to CDL:

    1. The library must own the book that is being loaned through CDL.
    2. The library must maintain the own and loan ratio of copies of a book being circulated.
    3. The library must maintain a Controlled digital environment for readers preventing them from copying and redistributing the digital versions.

    Advantage of CDL

    1. Tool for sharing knowledge 

    2. Making knowledge accessible to everyone and everywhere.

    3. Making print material more discoverable in a safe environment and giving access to rare books that are not previously lent out.

    4. Through CDL, Digital version of books are accessible to Print and other disabled persons

    5. It supported students, faculty, and researchers through this pandemic by providing the digital copies of the collection remotely.

    6. It allows learners in rural areas with limited transportation to access books at their places.

    Although there is controversy between a group of (authors & publishers) and Libraries and organizations advocating CDL on the copyrights issues. However some scholars have asserted that the CDL is not cutting the revenue of authors and publishers, as the legal use of books is already permitted by the copyright law when the libraries lend the books physically. CDL is digital lending in a controlled environment within the existing copyright laws.