This article looks into the bruhaha around the internet’s National Emergency Library and asks if pirates know (or care, or even think) they’re pirating.
The million dollar question here is whether the work of the Internet Archive, and its actions, amount to book piracy. If you ask publishers and publishing trade organizations, the answer is unequivocally “yes.” If you ask internet and information freedom advocates, the answer is, “hell no.”
So which is it? And what are regular readers supposed to make of all this?
The answer, of course, is complicated, because it involves copyright, and copyright is complicated. But here’s the short version: Libraries hoping to lend books in the U.S. have to either have them donated or purchase them from publishers. (Those purchases, when made by public libraries and public school libraries, are made with taxpayer dollars.) Once they purchase a print book, they own it, as does anyone who purchases anything in a capitalist society. E-books, however, need to be acquired directly from the publishers.
But publishers don’t sell e-books to libraries. They sell e-book licenses. Terms of those sales vary from publisher to publisher, but typically, each e-book license is limited to a period of two years or 52 individual lends of each licensed e-book, whichever comes first. The typical cost is usually three to five times the cost of a consumer e-book. The idea, on the publishers’ end, is to account for the loss of sales of either print or e-books. Physical books, after all, degrade with use, and the most popular books need to be replaced now and then, while digital content, for all intents and purposes, lasts forever.