My Statement To NPR On The Internet Archive’s Emergency Library

So, unless you’ve been living under a rock, or you happen to be a normal human who doesn’t care about the weave and weft of the publishing industry, you may have missed that the Internet Archive has announced its “National Emergency Library,” removing lending limits on what goes out the door, so anybody can grab anything at any time. Problem is, a number of authors have discovered their books there, and orgs like the Author’s Guild, the SFWA, and the Association of American Publishers, have all submitted statements objecting to what is perceived to be an over-reach on part of the IA.

I called them a “pirate site” for it, which admittedly was a bit of a stretch (social media is not good for nuance, please accept my apology), but it remains clear just the same that what they’re doing appears to exceed their purview. Regardless, NPR had initially promoted this as a good thing a few days ago, and last night issued a follow-up article, in which I’m quoted, but I wanted to give my full quote here, as I think the full context is useful, if not essential.

That statement is:

Though it was perhaps overwrought and hyperbolic to call the Internet Archive a ‘pirate site,’ it seems true just the same that with this ‘Emergency Library,’ the IA has gone and opened wide, free access to books that they do not have the rights to distribute. Some have said they operate like a real library, and these books are available only to the disabled, but I was able to get on there, grab a book of mine, read it on the site and download it to Adobe Editions. It appeared to be a physically-scanned book, and the limitless available downloads are not how average libraries work. The good news is, the site seems to cooperate with takedown notices from authors and publishers — but it’s also worth noting that authors and publishers do not generally have to submit those types of requests to libraries, which again suggests that this is not ‘business as usual,’ nor is it a library in the expected sense of the word.

The problem with bypassing copyright and disrupting the chain of royalties that lead from books to authors is that it endangers our ability to continue to produce art — and though we are all in the midst of a crisis, most artists are on the razor’s edge in terms of being able to support themselves. Artists get no safety net. We don’t get unemployment and aren’t likely to be able to participate in any worker bailouts. Health insurance alone is a gutpunch cost, not to mention the healthcare costs that insurance wouldn’t even cover. I’m lucky enough (currently, at least), that I can weather a bit of that storm more easily, but most can’t, particularly young authors, debut authors, and marginalized authors who are already fighting for a seat at the table. I’m also not alone in calling this site out — others like Alexander Chee, NK Jemisin, Neil Gaiman, Seanan McGuire, have noted their concerns over this.

I am all for access to information and entertainment, and remind folks that libraries here already allow you to take out e-books, even while their brick-and-mortar locations are closed. I used to work for a library system here in Pennsylvania, and libraries all around the country deserve their time to shine in this crisis, as we realize what vital institutions they are, both intellectually and as a service to the community.

You can read the SFWA’s letter re: infringement here. (From 2018.)

You can read the Authors’ Guild statement here.

You can read the statement from the Assoc of American Publishers here.

Here is a good thread on it from Margaret Owen, and another from Alexandra Erin.

And another from Alexandra Erin, too.

And Seanan McGuire.

And, of course, from Alexander Chee.

You can read a rebuttal from the Internet Archive here.

Brewster Kahle, creator of the IA, said to NPR: “We’re librarians. We’re not social media gladiators… the best I can tell, [the critics of the system] just think what they see on social media, and they retweet it.” Which is more than a little dismissive of author and publisher concerns, but so it goes.

To continue my commentary here a little — when I spoke about this on Twitter, it poured gasoline on an already roaring fire, and I endured what could best be described as a deluge of awfulness from corners of the internet both predictable and unpredictable. (The alt-right and the far left are definitely high-fiving on this one, forming a complete circle.) The alt-right side is, as noted, predictable — but I am surprised that the left has embraced a site run by a Bay area tech mill/billionaire over the rights of artists and writers, who I’d think would more commonly be embraced as the “workers” so commonly thought of in workers’ rights. But I was told that I was a millionaire myself (news to me), and others were told that they were “idea landlords,” suggesting I suppose that any dipshit can write a book. (The evidence of that, however, is not plain to see.)

But writers and artists are workers — we work very hard to produce material over the course of years. A book in your hand was not a fast process. It likely took two years to reach you. A publisher worked on it, too, at least if it went through the traditional system: from developmental edits to copy-edits to marketing to design, to sales and distribution and so forth. Most people inside publishing, too, are not well-off. They, too, are workers. And as noted, writers and artists live on that razor’s edge of being able to support themselves, and that’s true too for the people inside publishing, and true too for bookstore employees and librarians. We’re not rolling in piles of cash from, say, selling Alexa to Amazon, like Brewster Kahle of the Internet Archive did.

I do admire the mission of the IA. Preserving information is admirable. I’m excited for any weird repository of information. But art and stories are not automagically “information.” They’re not data to be swept up by Internet vacuums and deposited into distribution tubes. Yes, over time certainly art does move into a public space in terms of ownership, and yes, there are copyright entities who want to tighten the belt on copyright so that doesn’t happen, which I also don’t agree with. But the battle for that isn’t in the studio apartments of writers and artists. Go yell at Disney. We’re not Disney. We’re trying not to die here in the void, especially at a time when now we’re looking at a world that is both hungry for more art while trapped at home and that may not be able to accommodate as many voices going forward. So we’re looking at the horizon, wondering what the fuck happens in 6, 9, 12 months. The recession of 2008 was not great for publishing, and this seems a deeper cut. So, we’re worried. And when we see a big institution like the IA pop our books up with no clear restrictions and no clear throughline as to how we get paid, that’s troubling. And again, “get paid” sounds crass, and yes, I’d like to live in the world where our chits and ducats don’t matter — but they do. We pay mortgages and rent, we pay exorbitant taxes and health care expenses, we also do this thing called “eating” “food” and turns out, that shit isn’t free, either. So “get paid” is a means to an end, not a means to get rich. Most writers are subsistence-types, not “roll around on a bed of money” types. We’d love to give our work away for free, because we’re in this less for money and more to share stories — but under our current system, sharing stories is a whole lot easier when we aren’t starving.

(Or dying from a pandemic disease which will leave us with high healthcare costs — or worse, will get us turned away from a hospital because we don’t have health insurance.)

The result ends up being, fewer voices going forward. And the bad news is, it’s not as likely that it’ll be my voice you’ll stop hearing. I’m by no means authorially indestructible, but I have contracts that will carry me for a while and, hopefully, I’ll remain. (Knock on wood, and much to the chagrin of some of you.) No, the ones you’re shaking off the ladder are, as I said above, debut authors, or young authors, or marginalized authors. It also ensures that publishers will take fewer chances on weirder, more interesting books because they cannot afford to.

Is there a nuanced conversation to have about copyright and access and fair use and all that? Of course. Is this it? No, it really isn’t. And that’s part of my problem — the IA simply made an assumption and made a move. A bulldozer effort. And bulldozers are not nuanced equipment. “For the greater good” has merit in some conversations, but it’s hard to see a greater good where writers and artists are pushed further to the margins instead of being brought closer to the center.

And here you may yet say, you don’t care, and fuck publishers, and fuck rich authors, and viva la revolucion, and I can’t change your mind on that. But if your worldview doesn’t include seeing writers and artists as workers (much less people), you’re probably a selfish fucking asshole anyway who is just looking for a convenient political excuse to be that particular asshole. Using your cause as a shield isn’t new, but it also isn’t clever or admirable.

(As a quick final follow-up sweep of outlying questions, I’ve seen it around that only two of my books were on the IA, but the first night I started tweeting about it, Wanderers was also there, in full, as was, if I recall, one of the Miriam Black books. The next day, only two remained, and they remain still: Under the Empyrean Sky and Double Dead. Some have pointed out that they haven’t been viewed or checked out much, which I assume is meant to be an indictment against me as well as a suggestion the site isn’t so bad, don’t worry about it, but I’d argue those people are missing the point by a country mile. Also, folks seem to think I want the Internet Archive to “shut down,” which is, again, missing the point. No, I do not want them shut down, relax. And finally, it has gone around that because I find this all a bit dubious, I hate libraries, which is a real fuckwit take — I’m not only a fan, I used to work for the public library. I entirely support people taking out my books from libraries. I actually support libraries being even more robust than they are now. I wish they had a stronger foundation and could lend out more books, because I see libraries as part of a vital social safety net, equal to roads in how they transmit information, equal to healthcare in that they contribute to the intellectual health of our nation.)

And that’s that.

Comments open, but ding-dongs will be sent to spam. And I do not have the wherewithal or time to sit here and reply to everyone who wants an argument, so please recognize you might be arguing with a wall. Which, just the same, you’re free to do.

And one last reminder, I do have access to some books to give away for free — you can grab my Mookie Pearl duology here, if you are so titillated.

Finally, as recompense, here is a picture of dogs, because dogs are a bonafide good.

53 responses to “My Statement To NPR On The Internet Archive’s Emergency Library”

  1. The far right and the far left are aspects of the two-faced god, Janus. This has been obvious to anyone with a partially developed cerebral cortex for a long time.

    I’m sorry to hear they are fucking with you. Social media is garbage.

  2. The “argument” is painstakingly simple: content creators are protected by copyright laws, and real libraries negotiate with content creators (directly or, usually, through publishing companies) to pay a certain amount of money for a certain amount of use. If the IA is scanning the books and distributing them freely, they are violating copyright and should be shutdown/sued, and the people running that section of the company should be brought up on charges. Content creators don’t make money if people don’t buy (or rent/lease) their work. The IA is stealing product and then redistributing it. Just like roadside bootleg CD/DVD sales organizations that the FBI regularly shuts down. I fail to see how this is any different, and I fail to see the other side of the argument as valid. (P.S.I love real libraries. Real libraries don’t steal.)

    • The problem for me is that the publishers are going after the Archive, and only the Archive. Not fly-by-night pirate sites specializing in ebooks, not storage sites that unknowingly host stuff, or anything else that could also hurt their copyright and the folks doing the writing.

      They’re going after the site with the guaranteed cash return from a lawsuit. And frankly, more than a few of the publishers involved likely won’t give the authors whose royalties were affected a single dime.

      And that’s where I take issue with the whole thing. If it were coming from a group of writers, or their guilds, I might have a better opinion. But since it’s the publishing houses, a few of whom I’ve had abysmal opinions of for years now, it comes across as a cash grab more than any legitimate grievance or concern for their authors.

  3. Wow – I’d miss this particular fuckery. Keep up the good work Chuck. Gotta love tech billionaires who think piracy is for the common good (and OK, yeah, he didn’t pirate the books personally just as Zuck didn’t post shit on FB and whatshisface isnt’ responsible for Twitter either … yadayadayada).

    Of course I’m personally bummed that you’re now giving away the Mookie books – I mean I bought that shit and read it. Where’s my refund! (Just kidding of course – I can’t read).

  4. Isn’t it crazy how play can look so viscous when viewed in a different time? Totally referring to the dog pic here.

  5. Though it shouldn’t matter, I am also a published author who wishes his royalty checks were larger. I could not disagree more with your position and rhetoric, and I believe your understanding of the applicable law and commonly-accepted library practice is counterfactual.

    I won’t repeat it here, but I’ve detailed the bases for that disagreement on twitter, with citations from U.S. law and relevant authorities; is probably a reasonable starting point.

    I don’t believe you have addressed it, so I wonder what your reaction is to the fact that hundreds of libraries, deans, and head librarians have endorsed IA’s emergency lending policy (scroll down for the list:

    Insofar as access supersedes copyright (this being the foundation for libraries themselves via the principles of fair use and exhaustion), I think it’s wholly appropriate that _someone_ step in to provide access to physical library materials that are simply not accessible otherwise in this time when libraries are forced to close due to the worldwide pandemic. It seems that at least a broad swath of the nations libraries and library authorities agree.

    • Hi Chas – I respect your position – and I take it as read that your research is pertinent. But, law aside, why do you think it’s acceptable in these times of need to place an extra burden on a certain portion of the population. I’m a software engineer – I’m still working – I’m lucky – but I doubt my employer is going to start giving my work product away for free.

      Also, it’s the unilateral nature of the IAs approach. If you want to give away your work that’s your prerogative. Having somebody else make that choice is unfair (and personally I think it’s ultimately unhelpful).

      Again – I do respect your position and I’m just curious as to your reasoning (beside “it’s the law” and “these other folks think it’s OK”) – I mean no attack at all…

      • I’ll try to keep my replies in the order of the topics in your message:

        John, I couldn’t have said it better myself: people, in every capacity and context, are in need. Since the case for authors I think is well-established in this forum, let’s turn to another group: students, faculty, researchers, indeed, other writers, all of whom depend upon libraries for access to materials essential to their study and work. Those libraries have been forced to close, leaving their physical collections entirely inaccessible. From that perspective, I think IA’s policy implemented as it is in the “emergency library” is exemplary: a time- and circumstance-limited way for all of those people to hopefully continue their study and work.

        Please note that libraries “give [authors’] work product away for free” every minute of every day, and have been doing so literally for centuries, long before copyright was established. In many ways — and I know you were trying to set law aside, but it’s tough anytime cost is addressed since that’s intimately intertwined with copyright — libraries’ prerogatives statutorily supersede copyright and go far beyond common fair use as afforded to regular individuals. Much more about this can be read here and

        Re: IA’s “unilateralism”, I assume you mean aside from their collaboration with the libraries and librarians I linked in my initial comment? So I guess unilateral action vis a vis authors? If that’s the thrust of your question/concern, I think that’s again wrapped up in the fundamental mission and purview of libraries. When a library purchases a work, its copyright owners lose all economic interest in it (a.k.a. first sale doctrine, exhaustion, etc). In this way, everything a library does is unilateral with regard to authors; asking for things to be otherwise is to question the very nature of libraries and the value they provide to society.

        And that’s really the nut of where I’m coming from: libraries and the common wealth they support are strictly more important than any private interest, including authors. You might say, “if authors don’t get paid, libraries wouldn’t exist!” And I would agree, while pointing to the fact that despite libraries predating copyright and widespread commercial authorship, books continue to get written. Actually, more books are written and published earning more money and supporting more authors full time than ever before in the history of humanity.

        There is no doubt that many authors are actively hostile towards libraries; I’ve had many authors baldly say that they’d rather not see their works in libraries at all, as they view loans as lost revenue. I won’t bother going into details here of how and why I think such dispositions have come to be, as I think that would be unkind to our host in Chuck (feel free to ping me on twitter if you want to discuss this aspect further), but it’s always surprising to me that so many authors have such views given their professions and professed passion.

          • Can you at least point out which arguments are strawmen? You don’t even have to explain why you believe they’re strawmen or not. Because a quick dismissive comment like that comes off as refusing to engage a discussion, which is fine, but it’s also an insulting attack, which is not. If you simply reject anyone else with a different opinion and wish to refuse to acknowledgement, that’s fine, but you should at least be honest about it.

        • “There is no doubt that many authors are actively hostile towards libraries; I’ve had many authors baldly say that they’d rather not see their works in libraries at all, as they view loans as lost revenue. I won’t bother going into details here of how and why I think such dispositions have come to be, as I think that would be unkind to our host in Chuck (feel free to ping me on twitter if you want to discuss this aspect further), but it’s always surprising to me that so many authors have such views given their professions and professed passion.”

          It’s really disingenuous to make out that there’s no difference between authors being concerned about a website ceasing to act like a digital library and starting to act like a big literary candy bowl licensing content with as little restriction as they fancy, and authors hating libraries.

          “Please note that libraries “give [authors’] work product away for free” every minute of every day, and have been doing so literally for centuries, long before copyright was established.”

          Maybe, but that doesn’t mean it’s theirs to do what they like with. Libraries pay authors, don’t you have Public Lending Right in the US? Actually, wow – I was being sarcastic, but I just googled and it looks like maybe you don’t? Well, you should.)

          “When a library purchases a work, its copyright owners lose all economic interest in it (a.k.a. first sale doctrine, exhaustion, etc). In this way, everything a library does is unilateral with regard to authors; asking for things to be otherwise is to question the very nature of libraries and the value they provide to society.”

          No it isn’t. Or not in many places anyway. PLR also applies to e-books and audiobooks in my country. I still think libraries here provide a great deal of value to society, thanks.

          I mean why not just be honest and say, ‘there’s a global crisis so I think people should get free stuff, but while I still think they’re realistically going to have to pay for groceries, and electricity, and toilet paper, books seem pretty easy to give away, so the Internet Archive should just give away these people’s intellectual property and if they complain they hate libraries and, probably, suffering people.”

          • The hostility towards libraries from authors I referred to may have been provoked by the current IA situation, but it absolutely exists separate from it. I’ve seen people write “I wish my books weren’t in libraries”, full stop, and others have talked about trying to get their works removed from their local branches, etc. Similarly, many many publishers and some authors have fought for decades to eliminate things like libraries allowing the photocopying of articles on reserve in academic settings. No doubt the emergency library is controversial in some places, but even if it and I are dead wrong, that doesn’t negate a generalized anti-library sentiment among some authors and publishers.

            As you discovered (in real time I guess), no, there is no PLR in the U.S.; everything I’ve said here and elsewhere is from a U.S. perspective, thus my comment re: exhaustion, etc. I am familiar with the notion of PLR, but none of the particulars, and don’t really have an opinion on it. Though the last thing I read about it was in Publishers’ Weekly (, which has this takeaway FWIW:

            “””Seeking more federal support for writers is a good idea, but tying those funds to library lends is not. A PLR in the U.S. would disproportionately reward popular and bestselling authors, while the guild’s own data suggests that it is literary writers who are struggling the most.”””

            I’m not certain that’s true, but it makes sense given what PLR rates appear to be, e.g. 8.52p (that’s pence, so £0.0852) per loan (cite: If PLR were to have a meaningful impact for independent authors and small publishers, then it seems like some kind of sliding scale would be essential. Anyway, PLR plopped into place without any other change would absolutely bankrupt libraries en masse, as they’re already cut to the bone. But with a massive re-funding of libraries and the arts in general, maybe result would yield a net benefit for everyone.

            But back to the topic; no, “people should get free stuff” is not the argument, or sentiment. It’s that people cannot access the contents of their libraries’ physical collections, and that represents a grave loss to the entire population. I’ll copy/paste something I wrote in a different comment elsewhere here:

            Whether the suspension of waitlists is a violation of copyright or a reasonable exception __given the circumstances of forced library closings__ is the whole debate, and the answer lies in where one places priority given those circumstances and limited timeframe, i.e. the necessity of the mission of libraries vs. the necessity of incentivizing authors to create more works.

            Finally, a minor speculation regarding the degree to which people will “get free stuff”: given that the emergency library is vanishingly small compared to the cumulative size of the full physical collections of literally every library in the western world that are locked down now, and limitations of IA’s infrastructure, the number of actual loans made through it is going to end up being miniscule compared to the number of loans that would have been made on the actual physical resources by all of those shuttered libraries.

            That seems like quite a tragedy if one believes in the mission of libraries and in the existence of a natural right to knowledge, but in aggregate, people will actually be getting far less “free stuff” over the same time period.

    • Thanks for the reminder of how many of my fellow authors are “below average” in IQ.People like you are why I stay away from writer’s groups.

    • Regarding the library endorsements you tout: the only thing those librarians and library associations have agreed to is the Internet Archive removing their waitlists and allowing the material they have to be accessible to all regardless of their place in line. That’s it.

      The issue that Chuck is talking about, and that my own librarian associates and colleagues have been talking about, is that the IA has obtained digital copies of books which they have not paid to license, some of which were made illegally, and is now distributing those copies without safeguards, meaning they can be saved, uploaded to other platforms, and redistributed. That is not how a library operates. That is how a pirating site operates.

      “Insofar as access supersedes copyright (this being the foundation for libraries themselves via the principles of fair use and exhaustion), I think it’s wholly appropriate that _someone_ step in to provide access to physical library materials that are simply not accessible otherwise in this time when libraries are forced to close due to the worldwide pandemic.”

      You realize that libraries are still lending out digital materials, right? It why I, a digital librarian, am still working.

      As for “access supersedes copyright” in library practices…um. No. Nice thought, but no. I work in an academic library which continually has to evolve its efforts in fighting the piracy of online academic journals. We’re not paying out the nose for JSTOR or EBSCO so a graduate student can download hundreds of articles and upload them to a fileshare site, thereby eating into our own resources. Libraries get in trouble with publishers if we don’t respect copyright, and publishers often expect us to enforce copyright on our own; if we don’t, they can deny us access to materials.

      • It’s interesting that you are unconcerned about the waitlist suspension, as that is the main concern I’ve heard/read from other librarians.

        My understanding is that the bulk of IA’s non-public-domain library is obtained via donations from orgs like Better World Books. Do you view donations to libraries as illegitimate somehow? If a physical resource is donated to a library, then offering it digitally under the guise of CDL is common practice at this point.

        And yes, thank you for your work as a librarian, and yes, I’m aware that most libraries have continued their digital practices unabated. But, the IA’s library here is concerned with **physical** resources format-shifted to digital on this time- and circumstance-limited basis.

        By “access supersedes copyright”, I wasn’t saying that libraries aren’t subject to copyright. Libraries have far broader copying rights than are provided for under regular fair use enjoyed by individuals, and that’s the result of the principle of access being paramount, especially in the context of noncommercial research or study. It’s not an uncommon view that the natural extension of this principle is to not do nothing given extraordinary though time-limited circumstances where patrons are physically barred from accessing library resources.

        (Parenthetically, I’d hope that things like JSTOR and the knock-on effects of theirs and similar services’ policies aren’t cited as exemplars of how things should be, especially if the subject is fairness with regard to authors, nevermind readers.)

        • I never said I was unconcerned about the waitlist suspension. You’ll note my name isn’t on that list. (My dean’s name is on that list, and given the upheaval in our library due to COVID-19 the past three weeks, I can guarantee that he has not had time to carefully or even hastily consider the consequences of IA potentially violating copyright. It certainly isn’t something he asked his librarians for input on.)

          “My understanding is that the bulk of IA’s non-public-domain library is obtained via donations from orgs like Better World Books. Do you view donations to libraries as illegitimate somehow? If a physical resource is donated to a library, then offering it digitally under the guise of CDL is common practice at this point.”

          You’re conflating multiple practices here.

          Controlled digital lending is dependent on maintaining a strict equal ratio of owned to loaned copies. Using CDL, libraries are not permitted to loan out more digital copies than they physically own at any one time. (And, subsequently, if the digital copy is loaned out, then the physical copy is restricted from circulation until the digital copy is returned). This practice has been specifically developed to mitigate potential issues with copyright violation, as the courts have generally allowed that it falls under the first sale doctrine.

          IA, on the other hand, is essentially making infinite digital copies available without restriction, regardless of how many physical copies they are in possession of. If you want to compare IA’s practices to libraries using CDL to digitally lend books that have been donated physically to them, then the analogy is a library that has been donated a book, scans and makes hundreds or thousands of digital copies of that book, and then loans those digital copies out all at once without any restriction on lending time – and if they need more copies, they just make them. Libraries are not permitted to do that, and would almost certainly be hit with a cease and desist from copyright holders, if not outright sued.

          Also, CDL is far from commonly practiced, and is not without its controversies and legal challenges. It is primarily a way for libraries to provide access to electronic copies of books for which there is no ebook equivalent. It is generally not used for books which have an ebook form commercially available, and the vast majority of ebooks in circulation are ones that were bought or licensed from publishers. I recommend you give this white paper about CDL a read: You’ll see that multiple aspects of IA’s Emergency Library violate CDL best practice.

          Have a nice day.

          • You replied twice differently (I guess a temporary moderation issue), but I’ll do so just once here.

            Most importantly:

            > In short, please read up about CDL and how libraries handle copyright before snarking off on a librarian.

            Of course it’s hard to emote in a context like this, but at no point was I intending to “snark” or otherwise be unpleasant. I am sorry that something, anything I wrote came across that way. There’s been a lot of unpleasantness and invective around this issue, which I had hoped I’d avoided in general, but especially here in someone else’s space. Again, my apologies.

            I don’t believe I conflated CDL and what IA is doing with the emergency library, but I can see how one might think I was? IA supports a number of absolutely by-the-book CDL collections; e.g. they did a writeup of several backed by physical holdings at BPL: And, prior to the pandemic and the emergency library, IA had provided their scanned collections under exactly the same rules with enforced lending ratios, one scan of each physical resource loaned to one patron at a time.

            It is not my understanding that CDL mandates that a library refuse access to a digitized copy of an owned physical resource with proper lending ratio, if an ebook of that resource is commercially available otherwise. If you know of documentation or guidance along those lines, I would greatly appreciate a link (maybe that’s addressed in the lawarxiv paper you linked, which I will add to my queue, thank you).

            Now, post-pandemic, you’re absolutely right that the emergency library dispenses with the lending ratio mandated in normal times by CDL. I don’t believe I’ve ever claimed otherwise? That is the point of the “suspension of waitlists”, and the substantive nut of the controversy.

            Of course you know that copyright is not absolute, with many exceptions granted to individuals and loads more granted to libraries. Whether the suspension of waitlists is a violation of copyright or a reasonable exception __given the circumstances of forced library closings__ is the whole debate, and the answer lies in where one places priority given those circumstances and limited timeframe, i.e. the necessity of the mission of libraries vs. the necessity of incentivizing authors to create more works.

        • “My understanding is that the bulk of IA’s non-public-domain library is obtained via donations from orgs like Better World Books.”

          My book was an electronic copy. Not scanned copy. It was also a book that is not yet a year old and that is of no use for the supposed students who might need textbooks (mine was commercial fiction). It was the same for other SFF writers I know (recent titles, not all of them were scanned copies, commercial fiction). My book has now been removed but I got a screencap showing that it was an electronic copy that had been uploaded.

          • I don’t think IA or anyone else is saying that the emergency library is supposed to be limited to textbooks or older books or nonfiction or whatever.

            It sounds like you’re saying your book was maybe a rasterization of an ebook (since it should be technically impossible for IA to be distributing actual .epub or .mobi files via the platform that is servicing the emergency library). I would hope that IA is working out how and from where such materials got into their collection, as such things would undercut the entire basis of their project there.

            (FWIW if it wasn’t clear otherwise, I am not at all affiliated with IA, and have no knowledge of their internal processes, etc.)

        • First, most books donated to libraries are not added to the library collection, but instead are sold in book sales. Libraries aren’t collections of random books people were trying to get rid of, library collections are curated.

          Second, we’re talking about digital books, not physical. That makes it a completely different story. First-sale doctrine doesn’t apply to digital products, because you don’t actually transfer a digital product—you make a copy of it. Better World can sell physical books that they acquire, but they can’t scan and distribute the content of those books. That becomes a copyright violation. It’s the equivalent of xeroxing the pages of a book, binding them together, and putting them up for sale.

          Libraries cannot just buy ebooks from Amazon and then make them available in their collection. Nor can they scan physical books and make them available for their members to download. They have to reach agreements with publishers in order to lend out ebooks. The Internet Archive should be required to do the same.

          • Libraries can and do sell donated books, but they can also add them to their collection. Both options are completely valid. And in the case of IA, which was originally founded as an archive (thus the name), retaining and archiving everything they can obtain is exactly their flavour of curation.

            As for “[libraries cannot] scan physical books and make them available for their members to download”, I encourage you to learn about Controlled Digital Lending. To quote from

            “CDL is the digital equivalent of traditional library lending. A library can digitize a book it owns and lend out a secured digital version to one user at a time, in place of the physical item.”

            CDL has been adopted as standard accepted practice by a wide swath of libraries in the U.S. You can look on the “signatories” page on that site to see a sampling of them.

        • Chas, I wrote a long reply to your comment, but it was never posted, presumably because I included a link to a white paper on CDL.

          Suffice to say, you’ve either misunderstood what controlled digital lending is, or you’re deliberately misrepresenting it. CDL operates on a strict ratio of owned to loaned books. When practicing CDL, libraries cannot loan out more digital copies of books than the number of physical copies they own. And when they do loan out the digital copy, the physical book is removed from circulation. Basically, a library cannot get a “two for one” deal, where both the physical book and ebook are available to be loaned out at the same time, when they’ve only paid for one copy. This practice was specifically developed to ensure that libraries wouldn’t run afoul of copyright law, and courts have upheld this practice as being protected by the first sale doctrine.

          This is not what IA is doing. Your argument that it’s no different from a library receiving a physical copy of a book, scanning it or otherwise obtaining an ebook copy for free, and then making the digital version available through CDL just doesn’t hold water. No matter how many physical copies IA has of a certain book, it will always be a lesser number than infinity, which is effectively the number of digital copies they are making available by completely removing lending restrictions. If a library receives a physical copy of a book as a donation, scanned it and made hundreds or thousands of digital copies, and then loaned all those copies out at the same time, they would be in violation of copyright and would be subject to a cease and desist from the copyright holder. (At the absolute bare minimum.) IA should be held to the same standard.

          Finally, CDL is far from common practice, and has its own controversies and legal issues. At the moment, CDL is generally focused on works for which there are no digital versions readily available for purchase. That is not the case with many of the books IA has made available, which have ebook versions currently for sale. Offering free ebooks without lending restrictions when you did not pay to license those ebooks, and the ebooks themselves are available for legitimate purchase on multiple platforms, meets the standard of “market harm” under copyright law.

          In short, please read up about CDL and how libraries handle copyright before snarking off on a librarian.

          (Also, I never said I was unconcerned about waitlists being removed. You don’t see my name on that list, do you?)

  6. I couldn’t have possibly said all of this any better than you have. Thanks for the helpful list of reference links, as well. A very thorough and thoughtful article on a subject that has been irking me for several days. It definitely echoes my own sentiments on the subject.

  7. I work in the book creation field, I’m a Graphic Artist and Production Artist who works primarily in the Educational Textbook field. This sort of thing means fewer authors, which means fewer books, which means that my work dries up even more than it did in 2008, and I’m struggling already. I’ve been doing this gig for over 20 years now and I’ve watch publishers dry up and merge, which is bad for competition, because people don’t put enough value on books… What will happen when people like me, the people who format the books before they’re sent to the printer or released as eBooks can no longer afford to work in the field? There’s no automatic process to convert an author’s ideas into a printed book… yet.

  8. Your argument is very compelling. It will certainly make me rethink telling any patrons to take a look at the “emergency” library.

    The only counterarguments I could offer are from problems we are having on this side of the publishing/reader process.

    For example: as I am a fan, I have already purchased your books for my patrons the old-fashioned way. We own them. But no one can use them. Is that your problem? Eh– no. Because of this issue, though, I’ve spent $3,000 of my materials money this month buying digital versions of books we already own. And… that’s it. No more money. It took everything I have to buy all those stupid Erin Hunter books so middle schoolers will stop doing the unspeakable things middle schoolers do when left idle. Also not your problem– unless they start roving in 6th grade gangs a la The Warriors.

    It would help if digital books weren’t insanely expensive. On average, an adult book costs me about $65. THEN, it can only be checked out 26 times. After 26 check outs, it disappears from the collection and I have to buy it again. That’s $2.50 every time someone checks a book out. And digital readers have a bad habit of checking out multiple books at a time whether they read them or not because they don’t have to return them.

    So I feel like THAT is the actual problem. And if digital providers weren’t trying to gouge the eyeballs out of public libraries, this conversation would be over.

    Just some thoughts. Stay safe.

    • There is a huge issue with how pricing is set up, and different publishers have made that more (and in some cases less) difficult, in what I assume is an effort to promote print and not yield the field to digital. And there’s a big conversation to have in that, and about that, and authors have attempted (sometimes successfully, sometimes not so much) to facilitate a better deal for libraries on behalf of the author/publisher.

    • Hi Rachel – it would be better if the Internet Archive could throw this open to school teachers/librarians. I bet there are a ton of other worthy causes too. The trouble is they just threw the gates wide open – and if people are apt to check out multiple e-books “just because” then they’re equally likely (or more so?) to download free copies and never make a purchase or join their local library.

      I bet Chuck and the other authors would love to support worthy causes – just not free loaders. And that’s the rub.

      Good luck – and, maybe a go fund me for augmenting your budget might be appropriate in these unusual times? (Anything to save us from marauding 6th graders – the mind boggles at that!)

    • Rachel, I certainly sympathize, re: publishers’ draconian ebook practices. If there is any good to come out of this situation, I hope it will be publishers reevaluating ebook pricing and distributive models for public libraries.

    • Maybe this is one small opening for independent author-publishers: Smashwords allows me to set my library pricing. I have set it at the same as any ebook purchase, with unlimited lending. That’s my small effort to give something back to the libraries that have meant so much to me all my life. Of course, it’s easy for me to do, since I doubt any libraries will be buying it. I hope I would do the same if every library in the country bought them (of course, if they did, my sales would be amazing… 😀 ).

      I guess that would mean IA could buy my books and give them away to anyone who looks? “`

  9. Thanks for this heads up. I have, in fact, been living under a rock (actually on a ship in Antarctica, then cruising the coasts of South American trying to get home… long story, long trip, but pretty much all without internet). Doesn’t look like anyone found my books worth stealing (should I be offended?).

  10. I’ve shared this post on, where I reference a whole sequence of posts from early 2018 that began when Victoria Strauss of Writer Beware took on the Internet Archive. My own experience with piracy was mixed; I finally decided that tracking down and trying to corner most of the culprits would take up hours of my time with uncertain results. Most sites promising free copies of my books had no contact information, no claim of ownership. When I tried to use forms provided for takedown notices, I received error messages. IA, though, is a special case, arguing as they seem to here that artists owe it to the world to make their work available for free.

    One outcome of my posts was learning from a print-disabled poet about the Marrakesh Treaty, which allows certain sites, supposedly approved non-profits, to publish free works for people with special needs. But I note that you were able to access your books without being disabled, as could I.

    Thank you for making the case for writers and other artists as workers. That’s not said often enough.

  11. This was awesome! Thank you for continuing to speak sense in the face of ignorance, stupidity, and social media outrage. And for still believing in the inherent good in people, that if you took the time to explain the way an author’s income stream works and how important it is that most people would understand and empathize. Call me an optimist, but I think they do. Free is always tempting when you don’t factor in the hidden cost to others. It won’t matter to everyone, but there are assholes everywhere.

    I hope you and your family are keeping happy and well in the crazy time. Looking forward to reading more of your blog posts!

  12. Thank you for speaking up about this! This is the sort of nonsense that will change future expectations about the price of books.

  13. My takedown letter sent to those motherfucking libertarian scum probably scorched the little asshole who opened that e-mail.They stole two of my books that are only 2 and 3 years old respectively and still selling nicely. My publisher is on them for all the other books from other authors these thieves have stolen. My two books are off their list.

    The reason the “e-books” look scanned is because they are. They get books and send them on to the world capital of piracy of intellectual property: fucking CHINA (I lost two movies to the son of the Communist Party dictator of Shanghai 20 years ago) where they’re hand-scanned. They are no “library”. PIRATE SITE is the exact right term for these pissants.

    I HATE the “sharing economy” and the motherfucking thieves who run it, from Napster (which killed songwriting) to Uber (which kills people who drive taxis, not a job most people volunteer for, I certainly didn’t when I did it but it paid the bills) to Airbnb (which kills home availability). These entitled little millenial assholes have NOT “made things better” and they do not represent “progress.” I hope they all catch the coronavirus (it’s an evolutionary IQ test that’s pass/fail: are you intelligent enough to take the information and change your actions so as to maximize your likelihood of survival?) since they are all MORONS.

    Libertarianism – a fine form of government for 100 morons who think they’re geniuses, till the first scumbag comes along and sees how easy it is to “get over” on the others.

    The Internet Archive needs to be taken down. Permanently. As well as all the rest of the ripoff bullshit these people promote. And the people who do this need to Make America Great Again with their permanent departures.

    • Wow, TCINLA, I hope Mr Wendig chooses to leave your comment up, because that was a true thing of beauty. I share your feelings on the whole sharing economy thing. I think IA does have a role to serve keeping copies of old websites around, and providing access to the disabled when publishers won’t. But this whole mess is definitely an overreach.

    • Er, it’s millennials who are largely shafted by the sharing and gig economies, so why don’t you take your ageism and shove it?

  14. BTW: The Internet Archive was successfully sued last year for copyright infringement, so if they give you any crap, have your lawyer look it up and remind them of what they paid out last time. And then sue them, TechBoy has the money, right?

    Remember what Harlan Ellison always said: PAY THE DAMN WRITER!!!

  15. As a librarian, the IA’s – and their defenders’ – argument that they are simply operating as a library would makes me furious. Libraries pay for the materials they lend out, regardless of whether it’s a physical book, an ebook, a journal subscription, or access to a database. Authors still make royalties on the books libraries purchase. It’s especially egregious to equate sharing bootleg ebooks with library lending when libraries have fought so hard to make ebooks accessible to the public. I didn’t see any member of the “why are you trying to stop poor/disabled people from reading books” brigade speak out when Macmillan was limiting the number of ebook copies a library could buy in order to force libraries to order more physical copies of books. Now THAT was an accessibility issue.

    The fact that sharing copyrighted works – many obtained illegally – without the permission of the creator is wrong shouldn’t be difficult for anyone to understand.

  16. First, Right on, Chuck, and thank you!! I’m a published author (under another name) and like many, many writers I : a) have a day job so I can EAT (said day job also time sucks my ability to WRITE as quickly as I would like); and b) got only my upfront “advance” for that book and made nothing more, even though it sold 15,000+ copies (keeping in mind I was not a famous person – you don’t just automatically sell millions when you’re nobody) – and I was published by one of the major NY houses. It doesn’t matter how big the house is, being a writer is a lot of hard work for which many writers make very little.

    Second, most artists of any type don’t make a bunch of money. I know this because I am also a professional photographer and fine artist (which means painting, sculpting, stuff like that). If you look at all the artists in any given art form the percentage of hugely successful ones against those who toil in virtual anonymity is a really small percentage number. The percentage of writers who actually get published by one of the big houses is also a REALLY SMALL NUMBER, versus those who are out there writing – and writing some good stuff – but not getting published (yet).

    Third, I, too, once worked for the public library system – the Austin Public Library in fact. I shelved books, because, you know, you can make more money shelving books than most people ever make writing them. Just sayin’… Having said that none of the above will ever stop me from writing and working my butt off to be published again. Never say “die”, people!

    Fourth, I love you, Chuck! You are awesome!

    Thanks again!!

  17. Thank you very much for the recap – I saw a few weird comments on twitter from you and Seanan MacGuire, among others, about “IA” but missed what set off the whole kerfluffle. Now knowing the gist of it, I’ll stand by my tweets which were basically, “um, pay artists if you actually want them to make more art” which still seems both uncontroversial and really obvious.

  18. It would be perfectly legal for the Internet Archive (or anyone else) to make my first novel Restoration Day available to the general public. Ironically, they haven’t. But it’s legal only because I CHOSE TO FREELY SHARE THAT RIGHT via a Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike license.
    That was my choice. Others have made different choices, and no one has the right to disregard the license an author (or perhaps their publisher) puts on a book. Beneficial outcomes for some does not justify breaching the rights of others.

  19. Several years ago, in a Linked In writing group, the subject of authors and other artists being financially compensated for their work arose. Most everyone agreed that artists of any stripe should be able to make a living from their creative pursuits. But there were a few self-righteous pragmatists who questioned that entire ideology. Why, they kept asking. After all, no one asked us to write a book. My response was that, in a sense, people do ask for books to be written and songs to be recorded because they want to be entertained. They seek an outlet for their emotions – good or bad. It’s just human nature. Therefore, many of us with artistic attributes are drawn to that part of the human psyche. No, no one in particular asked us to write or sing for a living. But no one asks anybody to enter a particular profession.

    Grown people make their own choices in life. And, as artists, we must be respected for that. Not everyone can work at a desk or labor over a tow-truck lift. They just can’t. If we didn’t get paid for what we produce, the world ultimately would be a very sad and dire place.

    Keep writing and keep fighting, Chuck!

  20. Y’know, folks would get off your back if you did something to show your support to the Archive as it serves a big niche to the internet with such things as the all important Wayback Machine. Maybe donate a dollar or two to the site? A little good will can go a long way.

  21. I think it’s healthy that you’re pulling back from the twitter firestorm for a little while. You’re a tough old bird, for sure, but holy crow did you crack open a big ol’ canister of GM-ed ants with this one. Not that the credit should fall squarely upon your shoulders, really. I mean, you were one of many (MANY) who were shouting against the IA. Why the trolls are singling you out from the pack, I don’t really know. Regardless, you and every other author deserves to be paid for your work. Every artist and creative person deserves to get paid for their work. Plain and simple. Even during times of crisis, people deserve to be paid for their work. The arguments in support of IA lack intelligence and/or are driven by a parasitic mindset. Folks on the far right hating on you? Meh. Expected. Folks on the far left hating on you? Well, I think DEREK L GREGORY said it best in the opening comment:

    The far right and the far left are aspects of the two-faced god, Janus. This has been obvious to anyone with a partially developed cerebral cortex for a long time.

    Tell you what, Chuck. You keep writing and publishing books. I’ll keep paying you to read them. Are we square? Good. Now, go take some pictures of snakes and bugs and trees and stuff. And maybe treat yourself to a hot soak in a tub. I think you’ve earned it.

  22. Respectfully, the consequences of the Internet Archive being taken totally offline would be bad for unaffiliated academics, independent scholars and hopeful novelists like me who need the Wayback Machine to do research about recent history, and who have to turn to the IA for books that aren’t available in a 500km radius, are out of print, and return cost-prohibitive prices on Bookfinder (hundreds of dollars). Waiting for interlibrary loans on every book you *hope* has a line or two about your research topic is gonna suck. Am I acting entitled to the information (and thus the books they come in)? Absolutely, but the expectations for writers to know what they’re talking about– to have done their homework– have skyrocketed alongside the growth of universal access to information, and quite honestly those expectations that we’re to meet aren’t going to return to pre-Internet Archive, pre-piracy levels.

    I own several mountains of books in their proper physical formats and worked at a brick-and-mortar indie bookstore until recently. I don’t understand why the IA did the National Emergency Library– it was still an emergency library when you had to sign up for a free account to read books– and I don’t think they should be uploading works of contemporary fiction that exist primarily to entertain, but the fact that I can look up something in, for example, an inaccessible masterwork like “Lost lives: the stories of the men, women and children who died as a result of the Northern Ireland troubles”, without it being the only book I read this year (for financial reasons), and then use that information in my own time-limited endeavours is something that I’m very thankful for the Internet Archive for.

  23. I don’t know why I don’t see a reply option to Ole Chaz anymore, but I didn’t see anyone mention the plain simple fact that libraries have like one or two copies they can lend out. That limits how many books can be out at any given time. Meaning if a person wants it bad enough…. they won’t be able to wait and they will give up the 3 or 4 cappuccinos they might have gotten that month in order to get the book instead.

    Also…. I think Chaz may be that dude from What We do in The Shadows… Collin…. I tried so hard to deny the urge to reply, but I just couldn’t! ergh…

  24. Just a quick note that as an independent self-employed author you ought to be eligible for PUA through your state’s unemployment administration should you feel so inclined.

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