Last week, the Internet Archive (the organization responsible for the Wayback Machine) announced that it was removing all waiting lists for its Open Library, effectively making 1.4 million copyrighted works available for free without the permission of writers or publishers.
News outlets like NPR, The New Yorker, and Vice have reported on this “National Emergency Library” as though it is some sort of gift to readers. Don’t be fooled. This is a calculated, strategic move by an organization that has been attempting to undermine copyright law for at least the last half-decade while masquerading as a Robin Hood of the literary world. Yet, while Robin Hood stole from the rich to help the poor, this current thievery doesn’t serve any egalitarian purpose. It is outright copyright theft from authors who are already struggling during this current national emergency. The Author’s Guild has given a detailed statement on this matter.
Here are some facts you should know:
The Internet Archive’s Open Library is not an actual library.
It merely scans books illegally and lends them to readers. Until now, the library was limited to lending one scanned version at a time, much like how a library lends eBooks (except libraries pay for the copies they lend). Now the Open Library is lifting all waiting lists and lending books hither, thither, and yon, without any consideration for copyright. There are real libraries that acquire eBook copies legally and where readers can borrow eBooks without violating copyright. This copyright-stealing entity brings shame to the world “library” and will henceforth on this site be referred to as “that-which-shall-not-be-named.”
The national emergency this so-called library claims to serve is not the real emergency.
That-which-shall-not-be-named claims that it is helping give students access to books they need for their studies, but this claim is at best laughable and at worst malicious and self-serving. Many publishers have already been working hard to make needed books available during the COVID-19 crisis. The difference is these publishers are doing so in ways that do not harm authors and are providing access for works that will directly help impacted students and teachers. That Internet Archive is using COVID-19 in order to further its own legal agenda is nothing less than despicable.
Copyright theft harms readers as well as writers.
While it might seem that having 1.4 million books available for free is good for readers, it’s actually worse for everyone in the long run because it becomes harder for writers to produce more work. Think about it : if your favorite author no longer gets paid for writing books then they have to find another way to support themselves and their families. This means they will have less time and energy to write books (if they write at all) which means fewer books available for reading. Yes, in the short-term this might seem like a great idea, but in the long-term it is disastrous for both creators and consumers of creative work.
And don’t even get me started on the impact this has on bookstores. These businesses are already struggling amid COVID-19 closures, and now this pseudo-library undermines their very survival. If we want the book world to return to anything remotely resembling normal after this worldwide pandemic, we must band together and stand up to this literary bully. I use the word “bully” intentionally, because let’s face it, this scenario is the publishing equivalent of a meathead jerk beating up a nerdy kid during recess for their lunch money.
This problem is bigger than the book world.
Finally, I’d like to address all the news outlets that have reported about that-which-shall-not-be-named as though it is doing something good. I get it. Things are horrible right now, and I understand the urge to grasp onto whatever glimmer of apparent goodness we might find during these dark times. But when entities like NPR and The New Yorker praise an organization that undermines and infringes copyright, they are ultimately digging their own graves.
Sure, publishers and book authors might be the ones at risk right now, but copyright theft harms everyone in the intellectual property ecosystem. What’s to stop such an organization from illegally scanning magazine articles or ripping mp3 recordings of radio programs? This free-for-all dissemination of content may not seem so egalitarian or benevolent when the content is one’s own. If this internet abomination is allowed to steal copyrights of books, it’s only a matter of time before other intellectual content is at risk.
Gabriela Pereira is an author, speaker, and entrepreneur who wants to challenge the status quo of higher education. As the founder and instigator of DIYMFA.com, her mission is to empower writers, artists and other creatives to take an entrepreneurial approach to their education and professional growth.Gabriela earned her MFA in writing from The New School and speaks at college campuses and national conferences. She is also the host of DIY MFA Radio, a popular podcast where she interviews bestselling authors and book industry professionals and author of the book DIY MFA: Write with Focus, Read with Purpose, Build Your Community.