The Society of Authors is the UK’s trade union representing over 10,500 authors. We are writing to demand that you cease making available to UK users the unauthorised lending of scanned books on Internet Archive’s Open Library site.
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. We therefore support the Authors’ Guild's open letter and urge you to stop unlawfully scanning and offering books for lending without authorisation.
In addition, whatever arguments you choose to put forward in the US, you must be aware that the US fair use doctrine does not apply in the UK where all scanning and lending must be authorised by the copyright owner. There is no legal basis for the practice of scanning books without permission or lending them in the UK. 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 Internet Archive claims that Open Library is “honouring the rights of creators”. However the practice of Controlled Digital Lending does nothing of the sort. Authors are not asked for permission before their work appears on Open Library, and they do not receive any royalties. Authors’ earnings are in decline and many are struggling financially. A survey carried out by the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS) in 2018 found that an author in the UK earned an average of just £10,500 from their writing per annum. The form of ‘lending’ that takes place on Open Library has the potential to destroy the e-book market and make it even harder for authors to make a living from their work. It also competes with borrowings from bona fide UK libraries.
We are calling on you to cease this practice which infringes the copyright of writers and is unquestionably unlawful in the UK.
We look forward to hearing from you by 1 February confirming that you will immediately take measures to ensure that Open Library books are not made available for downloading in the UK. We also demand that you stop scanning books by UK authors without permission. If we do not receive assurances by that date we will have to consider legal action on behalf of our members to prevent this practice. If that becomes necessary we shall be seeking damages for copyright infringement and payment of all legal costs.