The Pandemic Is Not an Excuse to Exploit WritersRoundup
tags: Internet, writing, coronavirus, Piracy
Mr. Preston is the president of The Authors Guild.
Authors have been hit hard by the pandemic, especially emerging writers who have books coming out in the next few months. With bookstores and libraries closed and book tours canceled, they are facing an enormous challenge in connecting with potential readers. It could be a career-destroying time for some authors, many of whom are struggling to make a living.
Enter the “National Emergency Library” to make things even worse. On March 24, Internet Archive, a nonprofit self-described as a “digital library of free and borrowable” content, announced that it was granting itself powers to distribute e-books free to anyone who wants them. Citing the pandemic, it has removed all lending restrictions from its archive until June 30.
Since 1996, Internet Archive has been copying and archiving web pages, and it runs the popular Wayback Machine, which preserves defunct websites. It has also been shipping containers of books to China for scanning, as well as scanning many books in San Francisco. Over the years it has built up a collection of 1.4 million e-books, many of which are still under copyright.
By making a splashy news announcement praising itself for coming to the rescue of homebound students and teachers, Internet Archive managed to snag some favorable press from The New Yorker and NPR, among others, and the endorsement of a number of other prominent institutions. (NPR has since reported on objections to Internet Archive from writers and publishers.)
Let us be clear: The National Emergency Library is not a library. It is a book-piracy website. Internet Archive has not paid a dime for these books, to either authors or publishers; instead, it acquires donations of used books from various sources. After scanning, it stores those books in warehouses, claiming that its ownership of the physical book gives it the legal right to lend out digital copies.
Legitimate libraries also lend e-books free, but there’s a huge difference: They pay expensive licensing fees for those e-books, and a portion of the fees flow to authors as royalties.