Here is an article which discusses whether it's a copyright violation to display a book cover on library web sites.
Here is the.effing.librarian's opinion of the broader issue:
For years, librarians have been looking at books and telling people what the book is about: Gettysburg, Battle of, Gettysburg, Pa., 1863 -- Fiction.
And for years, people, including competing authors, have been able to riffle through these collections of book records, or "card catalogs," to see what other authors are publishing. Visiting the stacks to examine these texts is time-consuming, but librarians have been bypassing the originals materials to make this very valuable and useful information freely available to competitors for years.
You can argue that the nature of cataloging is necessary to libraries; but is it, really?
Do libraries really need to decide in which subject category to classify a book for someone to find it? Can't people just browse through all the books to find what they want?
And worse yet, libraries have been uploading these catalogs onto the Internet, thus making all of this copyrighted material available to anyone with Internet access. Shouldn't authors and publishers be protected from this blatant disregard for their intellectual property rights?
Is this legal?
Sure, you can argue fair use, but really, what is fair?
Aren't libraries in direct competition with book stores? And book stores survive because of sales while libraries steal those sales away by giving away free access to those same books. So why should libraries be allowed to advertise and promote books the same way book stores can? Why should libraries be allowed to claim fair use when they so unfairly target booksellers, publishers and authors?
Libraries create nothing. They hoist their bulks onto the shoulders of the true artists and workers and demand that they be carried along while giving nothing back. So why should libraries be able to profit from the latest Stephen King novel by displaying its cover in the online library catalog? U.S. copyright law allows reproductions for "useful" objects, but since when has anyone found any library catalog useful?
I don't think libraries should be able to catalog books. Even when "cataloging in publication" information is available in the front of a book, I don't feel libraries have the right to capitalize on the threats the Library of Congress makes against publishers to force them to include this information in their works.
"How does the Cataloging in Publication (CIP) program relate to Copyright?
There is no relationship between the CIP program and Copyright registration. The principal intention of copyright records is to document the intellectual or creative ownership of a work. The principal intention of a CIP record is to describe the bibliographic characteristics of a work and thereby facilitate access to it in library catalogs."
You notice there is no benefit to the publisher; there are no additional protections, only the theft of intellectual property. The Library of Congress says, "we will decide how to classify your book" with the implicit threat that the LoC will make the book virtually invisible with intentionally incompetent cataloging.
We at the.effing.librarian want to see libraries filled with unlabeled, uncatalogued books, DVDs and CDs. We don't even want them on shelves. We envision a room filled with cardboard boxes, with books in vertical stacks, with piles of books in no particular order. If we truly want to keep libraries free and knowledge free, then cataloging or organizing of any sort can only abridge these freedoms.
A free library can only be one without constraints and boundaries and without any cataloging system at all.
[oh, I'm sorry. do I have to post a sarcasm alert?]