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I operate a free book-lending library which is funded by donations of money and of books. Somebody donated some books to the library that state inside that it is not permissible for libraries to lend these books out without the publisher's permission. I called the publisher of one of the books and he said that since this book is out of print for quite a few years it is not a problem, but all books that they publish that are still in print are not allowed to be loaned out.

What is the Halacha on this concept? Can a publisher prevent a lending library from lending out books that it published?

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This would not be prohibited through the laws of the land, since the First Sale Doctrine (17 United States code section 109(a))exhausts copyright lending laws at the point of sale.

Normal copyright laws in halacha cover the profits from something, not the use of the object itself (Chasam Sofer Choshen Mishpat 49). Therefore, if you aren't profiting, it wouldn't be a problem.

However, the Shoel Umeishiv (1:1:44) has a much broader understanding of copyright laws which seems to be more of an ethical imperative to respect the work of others. I don't know if this would include lending without reproducing.

The Rama and the Shach have a dispute in Choshen Mishpat siman 73 if the law of the land can override the halacha in awarding monetary rights. The Rama holds that it can (his case being that the halacha says a person cannot sell collateral that was not redeemed even after a year, and the law of the land says that he can sell it after a year, that he can sell it as per the law of the land). Many later authorities adopt this Rama. One could therefore reasonably rely on the Rama to give you the right to lend it as per the First Sale Doctrine.

However, the Ramban says that the injunction of "You shall do the just and the good" requires us to do the "right thing" even when it is technically permitted. Respecting the wishes of others could fall into this category, although this is a much fuzzier guideline.

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