Using the coronavirus pandemic as an excuse, the Internet Archive has — without permission or payment — removed all limits on how many people can simultaneously “borrow” digital copies of some of its bootleg e-book editions scanned from printed books.
Included in this co-called National Digital Library are bootleg e-book editions of 1.4 million books, scanned from printed copies donated by libraries. “This library brings together all the books from Phillips Academy Andover and Marygrove College, and much of Trent University’s collections, along with over a million other books donated from other libraries,” according to a FAQ about the project:
We worked with Phillips Academy, Andover to digitize their entire library, giving high school students everywhere access to a world-class school library.
Last year we received the entire contents of the Marygrove College library when the school closed in December, featuring a collection rich in materials relating to social justice.
We also received a donation of 250,000 books from Trent University, comprising research monographs from the latter half of the twentieth century.
But the Internet Archive isn’t distributing the physical books that were donated. Instead, it’s “re-published” them by scanning them and creating new bootleg e-book editions. It has done so without permission or payment to authors or publishers, and regardless of whether the written and visual works in these books are still in print or available elsewhere online in legitimate digital editions.
So much for authors’ incomes in a time of crisis. Do librarians and archivists really want to kick authors while our incomes are down?
The argument is that students need e-books while they are staying home. But that’s an argument for spending public funds to purchase or license those resources for public use — not putting the burden of providing educational materials for free on writers, illustrators, and photographers. Authors also need to eat and pay rent during this crisis.
The situation remains as we describe in our FAQ:
Everyone is getting paid, except the writers, photographers, illustrators, and graphic artists who created the works that are being copied and distributed. The librarians are getting paid. The scanner operators are getting paid. The programmers are getting paid. The builders of the server farms are getting paid. The system administrators are getting paid. The authors, and only the authors, are getting nothing.
Many authors are making home-schooling and distance learning resources available on our own websites or in new e-book editions, some of them tailored specifically to the current situation. Some of those online editions are free to readers but generate advertising revenue for authors.
The Internet Archive and libraries could have opened up their catalogs to allow authors to add pointers to these new editions and licenses, and/or to authorize free or reduced-price licensing of e-books scanned from printed books. Instead, they have simply taken our work without asking. They have talked about how valuable these new digital editions are, while declining to pay for them.
These copyright infringing bootleg e-books, and millions of others like them, were already being made available through a process described misleadingly by the Internet Archive and its supporters as Controlled Digital Lending. This is actually neither controlled nor lending: The Internet Archive has created a unique, public URL on “archive.org” for each page of each book it has scanned. The full image of the page can be viewed or downloaded without needing to create an account, log in, or “borrow” the e-book.
But until now, downloading of entire e-book at a time was subject to some restrictions. Now, for those e-books included in the “National Digital Library,” even those limited controls have been removed. Any number of readers can simultaneously download their own copies of any of these bootleg e-books.
The Internet Archive and its supporters claim to think that this is all “fair use.” It’s not, as we explained in our FAQ about so-called “controlled digital lending,” and their failure to ask authors about how we normally monetize these works deeply undermines their claim to have a “good faith” belief that their actions are legal. As long as they refuse to talk to authors about how their bootleg e-books divert readers from legitimate digital editions and deprive authors of income, they are continuing to act in bad faith.
The only sop offered to the authors by the Internet Archive is this description of a new “opt-out” process available only after a book has been scanned and is being given away:
If I am an author and I do not want my book to be temporarily available during this crisis, how can I remove my book from the National Emergency Library?
Authors who do not want their books in the National Emergency Library should send an email to email@example.com with “National Emergency Library Removal Request” as the subject line. Please include each URL of the book or books you would like to have removed. Please allow up to 72 hours for processing as we are a small team.
Meanwhile, we’ve had no response to to our Appeal From the Victims of Controlled Digital Lending from either the Internet Archive or the authors of the white paper supporting its book-scanning scheme.
Please, can we talk?