Not Enough Bullets

Publisher lobbyists and their author lackeys, hoping to capitalize on increased book sales resulting from Covid-19 pandemic driven library shut-downs, has attacked the national emergency library project.

This is yet another case where the rent seeking from IP serves no public good:

Last week, when the Internet Archive announced its “National Emergency Library,” expanding access to more than a million digitized works, the group explained the move as a goodwill gesture in the time of coronavirus.

With so many brick-and-mortar libraries forced to close their doors, in other words, the group was opening up its lending program: Now, instead of its usual policy of just one digital copy per reader for a 14-day period, many frustrated readers could borrow copies of the same book during the same time — and could do so through the end of June or the end of the global pandemic, whichever came sooner.

But there’s one major issue that several media outlets, including NPR, failed to mention in covering the decision: Many writers and publishers say the website, even before the creation of this National Emergency Library, has been sharing full digital copies of their books without their permission.


“We’re librarians. We’re not social media gladiators,” Brewster Kahle of the Internet Archive told NPR over the phone Monday. “The best I can tell, [the critics of the system] just think what they see on social media, and they retweet it.”

Kahle said the group uses the same controls limiting access to these works as the publishers themselves, with encrypted files that are meant to disappear from the user’s computer after a brief period. The copies the group lends, Kahle said, are owned by the Internet Archive — either through donations, straight-up purchases or collaborations with brick-and-mortar libraries.

As the cost of publishing and distributing creative works has dropped by over a factor of 100, copyright subsidized industries have invested these profits in lobbying congress to increase those subsidies.

The purpose of IP is public benefit, but the current level of rent seeking provides none.

Leave a Reply