A Fight For Our Reading Rights

Devil’s Advocate
3 min readMar 22, 2023

Avid ebook readers may know about the site OpenLibrary.org, which anyone can sign up to and read some old texts, scriptures and even fiction works like novels online for free. In December 2020, Open Library was sued by 4 major book publishers citing business risks.

The publishers who sued Internet Archive, which runs the open library site, are not small names. It is the quad of Hachette, Harper Collins, Penguin Random House, and Wiley — some of the biggest names in recent publishing history.

The allegation was that this kind of digital lending was “willful digital piracy” causing the book publishers “massive harm”. The counter-argument posed by Internet Archive was that the publishers have to prove such harm has indeed come about to them.

There are two questions here:

- Are book publishers really harmed because of lending such scanned books?

- Is it mandatory to pay a license or royalty fee for scanning such books?

You may wonder why this debate is even relevant for anyone other than IA or these book publishers.

Why do you think Google and OpenAI have millions of books scanned into digital format?

All AI systems will need massive amounts of data for them to dig into and respond to any query posed to the system. This scanned data is part of what powers Google/Bing search and ChatGPT.

The “heart of the lawsuit” is about figuring out whether Internet Archive’s book scanning violates copyrights by reproducing an already licensed physical book and lending it without paying more licensing fees to publishers.

If IA is now forced to pay license fees for its scanned books also, it would open the floodgates for all book publishers to sue many small/major companies creating AI products (like ChatGPT) and make them pay a royalty fee to them in order of millions or billions of dollars.

We need to wait and watch how this fight will turn out to be. But Digital Rights are a very complex subject and the ramifications of how such rights will be regulated by the Courts will soon extend from everyone publishing a book or an article to everyone reading it.

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Devil’s Advocate

Seeker for life. Looking to make technology simpler for everyone.