The non-profit organization Internet Archive recently made the decision to grant free access to millions of electronic books to the public during the COVID-19 outbreak. They are calling it a “National Emergency Library.”
Although the free access to the self-designated library is intended to serve individuals who are not able to go to a physical library or bookstore due to closures or self-quarantine, it has endangered the careers of many authors and publishers by distributing copyrighted material. By granting people around the world access to electronic scans of books, the livelihood of authors will be harmed.
The Internet Archive is handing out property that supports authors, publishers and their families financially. Many of these authors are individuals are already struggling due to book tours and speaking engagements being canceled because of the ongoing health crisis.
Publication of the books without the acknowledgment of the authors is a violation of their rights. The non-profit has no legal authority over the books it has distributed, and it refuses to admit they made a mistake.
Some have defended the organization, claiming this decision can be perceived as a marketing strategy that will benefit the authors. However, this is not true; once a book is available for free, who will want to purchase it later?
This acclaimed marketing strategy prevents authors from even considering releasing their novels as e-books, limiting the growth of many writers who aspire to be recognized by their work throughout the country.
Even though the Internet Archive aims to help the individuals who are not able to resort to the libraries or bookstores, their decision of administering scans of copyrighted novels is not the solution. It’s unfortunate that people are not able to physically obtain a book, but because of today’s technology there are other purchasing options.
Unlike the so-called National Emergency Library, public libraries offer e-books that follow copyright laws and purchase the license of each individual book. With each license purchased, authors will receive royalties, or payments for their copyrighted work.
Students who lack the required textbooks for class also have the alternative of purchasing an electronic version online or have the option of checking the listing of publishers who are working to address the need of both students and instructors.
As for authors whose books are available on the Open Library, the Author’s Guild is initiating a takedown campaign. The Author’s Guild is a professional organization that supports and protects author’s creativity and is currently urging writers to request their publishers or the Internet Archive, to take their book down.
Access to novels is crucial, especially when everyone in the United States has been advised to stay indoors, but it should not be at the expense of others. Writers want to encourage people to read their work, whether they purchased or borrowed a copy of their book, but not by damaging the market in return.