The Society of Authors has joined a chorus of criticism from authors’ and publishers’ groups in branding the Internet Archive’s (IA) move to make its collection freely available online ‘disgraceful and unlawful’.
The SoA’s intervention follows IA’s removal of download restrictions on 1.4 million books hosted on its site – a step labelled an ‘aggressive, unlawful and opportunistic attack’ on rights holders by the Association of American Publishers.
31 March 2020 I San Francisco-based IA, which ‘lends’ scanned copies of books to its users under highly controversial Controlled Digital Lending practices, has previously attracted criticism from authors and industry professionals by making in-copyright works available free of charge without the permission of authors and rights holders. The website usually limits book downloads to one user at a time, however under their ‘emergency’ setup they have removed the limit. The website has never restricted downloads geographically.
Following the COVID-19 outbreak and ensuing government restrictions, IA announced on 24 March that it would be offering unlimited lending of its collection ‘to serve the nation’s displaced learners’ until 30 June 2020 or beyond if the US Government extended the country’s National Emergency.
Responding to the unprecedented step, the Authors Guild – the SoA’s sister union in the US – issued a statement on 27 March denouncing IA’s use of ‘a global crisis to advance a copyright ideology that violates current federal law and hurts most authors’.
The SoA supported the Authors Guild’s 2018 campaign to issue hundreds of takedown notices to the IA. Authors finding that their books have been made available under the most recent scheme should email IA (firstname.lastname@example.org) using the subject ‘National Emergency Library Removal Request’ and adding a link to the URL of their work.
Responding to the news, SoA Chief Executive Nicola Solomon said:
We warned about the rise of IA’s activities back in 2017 and we launched our popular e-book piracy campaign in 2019 to combat the threat from IA and other pirate sites.
For IA to now announce that it is making millions of in-copyright books freely available online without restriction, and using a global pandemic to do so, is disgraceful.
The threat we are now facing will require governments to work together to preserve as much of the global economy as possible as we emerge from the crisis.
In 2018, the creative industries accounted for £111.7 billion – up 7.4% on 2017. If we are to maintain and improve on this position, we must safeguard intellectual property rights and insist on the highest international standards to ensure that creators’ rights are protected.
IA has no legal right to give away authors’ in-copyright work free of charge. It is piracy – pure and simple – and it must be stopped. I have written to the Publishers’ Association in the UK and I will be raising this with Ministers and others to discuss what can be done at this particularly sensitive time.
Authors who think that their works have been published online without their consent – whether by IA or any other site – should get in touch with us.
Where their works have been made available under the so-called ‘National Emergency Library’ under its latest scheme, they should email IA including a link to the URL of their work, having also discussed what they plan to do with any other rights holders.
The European Writers’ Council joint a Co-Statement against the so-called Controlled Digital Lending.