Book publishers sue Open Library for piracy

Major book publishers are suing Internet Archive (IA) for sharing over a million books for free during the COVID-19 pandemic.

IA operates an online library which boasts a huge collection of digital books that can normally be accessed under certain “wait time” restrictions, allowing for a limited number of users to borrow books at a given time.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, the site suspended these wait times and made 1.4 million books from its e-book repository Open Library available via a new National Emergency Library.

IA said this was done to assist educators and students with learning material, as many physical public and university libraries have closed their doors during the crisis.

While welcomed by certain users, the move was slammed by groups representing the rights of writers including the Authors Guild and Copyright Alliance.

“We are shocked that the Internet Archive would use the COVID-19 epidemic as an excuse to push copyright law further out to the edges, and in doing so, harm authors, many of whom are already struggling,” the Guild stated.


In a lawsuit filed in a New York court, Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins Publishers, John Wiley & Sons, Inc. and Penguin Random House argue that IA illegally scanned books to its servers and distributes complete copies of books on public-facing websites, without any license or payment to authors or publishers.

“With just a few clicks, any Internet-connected user can download complete digital copies of in-copyright books,” the publishers said.

“Despite the ‘Open Library’ moniker, IA’s actions grossly exceed legitimate library services, do violence to the Copyright Act, and constitute wilful digital piracy on an industrial scale,” they stated.

The group said authors and publishers had well-developed and longstanding partnerships with the library market, through which public libraries buy print books and license ebooks (or agree to terms of sale for ebooks) from publishers, usually via book wholesalers or library ebook aggregators.

“IA’s activities are nothing like those of public libraries, but rather the kind of quintessential infringement that the Copyright Act directly prohibits,” the publishers said.

IA founder Brewster Kahle told Engadget that IA acquires books and lends them as libraries have always done, which supports publishing, author,s and readers.

“Publishers suing libraries for lending books, in this case, protected digitized versions, and while schools and libraries are closed, is not in anyone’s interest. We hope this can be resolved quickly,” Kahle stated.

Free content

A number of digital platforms have temporarily made copyrighted video content – particularly of educational value – freely available during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This included Netflix posting 10 of its own documentaries to YouTube with corresponding educational resources available for teachers and students.

The Natural History Museum in London offers a virtual tour guided by Sir David Attenborough. Users can also view its gallery containing over 300,000 specimens.

Additionally, several sought-after theatre productions have also been streamed for free for limited times, including plays by Shakespeare performed at London’s National Theatre and well-known musicals from Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber.

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Book publishers sue Open Library for piracy