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SoA Demands Internet Archive Stops Lending Books ‘Unlawfully’

The Society of Authors has demanded the Internet Archive’s Open Library stops lending books “unlawfully” online in the UK, arguing the US practice of Controlled Digital Lending is a breach of copyright.

In an open letter, the trade body urged the San Francisco-based Internet Archive to immediately discontinue the practice of lending scanned copies of physical books on its site. “There is no legal basis for the practice of scanning books without permission or lending them in the UK,” said the SOA. “Despite this, users in the UK are currently able to borrow scanned copies of physical books from Open Library. That is a direct and actionable infringement of copyright.”

The SoA, which represents 10,500 writers, has condemned the practice, saying: “If widely adopted this form of ‘lending’ could destroy the e-book market and make it even harder for authors to make a living from their work.”

The practice, dubbed Controlled Digital Lending, has sparked concern in the US with the Authors Guild petitioning against “recently invented legal theory” CDL, as reported in Publishers Weekly.

According to the Authors Guild, CDL “allows libraries to justify the scanning (or obtaining of scans) of print books and e-lending those digital copies to users without obtaining authorisation from the copyright owners.”

Legal scholars issued a position statement and white paper on the practice in October arguing CDL “is an emerging method that allows libraries to loan print books to digital patrons in a ‘lend like print’ fashion…When CDL is appropriately tailored to reflect print book market conditions and controls are properly implemented, CDL may be permissible under existing copyright law. CDL is not intended to act as a substitute for existing electronic licensing services offered by publishers.”

The SoA’s letter said: “We are aware that Open Library justifies the copying and distribution of these books in the USA on the basis of the “Position Statement on Controlled Digital Lending”, authored by a number of US legal scholars. The Statement argues that Controlled Digital Lending is legal under US fair use doctrine, an opinion that cannot be sustained following the recent decision in the ReDigi case.”


A recent US appeals court decision found ReDigi - a commercial service enabling the resale of iTunes files - was unlawful, because the programme relied on the creation of unauthorised copies, raising questions for CDL.

Open Library, which launched in 2006, is a project of the non-profit digital library Internet Archive, which was founded by American internet entrepreneur Brewster Kahle in May 1996 to “offer free universal access to books, movies and music as well as 345 billion archived web pages.”

The Bookseller has contacted the Internet Archive for comment.

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