Yesterday, some of the largest book publishers sued Library Genesis, an illegal shadow library that the publishers accused of “numerous violations of federal copyright law.”
Publishers suing include Cengage Learning, Macmillan Learning, McGraw Hill, and Pearson Education. They claim that Library Genesis (aka Libgen) is run by unknown people based outside the United States, who know that the shadow library is “one of the largest, most prominent, and far-reaching operations in breaking the world” and willfully infringing copyright. laws that have “absolutely no legal justification for what they do.”
According to the publishers, Libgen offers free downloads for over 20,000 books that the publishers never gave Libgen permission to distribute. They claim that Libgen is “a massive piracy effort” and note that their complaint may be updated if more infringing works are found. This massive breach has caused publishers and authors serious financial and creative harm, the publishers say.
“Libgen sites deprive plaintiffs and their authors of income from their creative works, lower the market value of plaintiffs’ books and works, and may cause plaintiffs to cease publishing certain acts,” the complaint said.
This isn’t the first case Libgen has pursued, and if history repeats itself, it likely won’t be the last. TorrentFreak reported that after publisher Elsevier sued Libgen in 2015, the court ordered Libgen to shut down. But after a brief hiatus, Libgen returned and has been online ever since, acting to defy that order — as well as court orders “in several countries, including Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Italy , and United Kingdom,” the publishers’ complaint filed yesterday said. Those countries have even tried to order “Internet service providers to block access to Libgen Sites as a result of infringement actions,” said the publishers, but all seems to have failed. y usefulness.
It’s hard to say whether the new lawsuit will have better luck forcing Libgen offline. The publishers asked the US district court in New York to order Libgen to pay damages that TorrentFreak estimated to exceed $30 million. They also want an injunction barring Libgen from any future or ongoing infringement, an accounting and disgorgement of Libgen’s profits, the destruction of all Libgen copies of the infringing works, and a order forcing all Libgen domain names to be transferred to publishers or deleted.
Anonymity is the key to Libgen’s success
According to Similarweb data cited in the complaint, Libgen attracted “an average of more than 9 million visitors per month from the United States” from March to May 2023. This includes tons of students, the publishers claim. who were “bombarded with messages to use Libgen sites” on social media rather than paying full price for the books. This, the publishers claim, lowers the book’s market value and causes a “significant decrease in revenue from sales.”
Instead of paying publishers to distribute books like a real library, the complaint alleges, Libgen profits from pirated works by running advertisements along with e-downloads. -book for things like online games and browser extensions. Sometimes Libgen’s ads, the publishers claim, “appear to be phishing attempts, which may result in users downloading a virus or other malicious program onto their computers.” Libgen also took donations from users, reporting that it has raised $182,540 so far in 2023, the complaint said.
The publishers say that the key to Libgen’s success as a pirate website is its anonymity. Libgen staff, the publishers said, hide behind usernames like “librarian” or “bookwarrior” and rely “on proxy services that specifically hide the identifying information of website operators. ” As a business, Libgen never provides names or addresses as contact information, and when they register for new domains, they use registrars that “remain private and/or proxy services in registered.”
So far, they have proven to be impossible to unmask, but the operators of Libgen “are believed to be living outside the United States in unknown foreign locations,” the complaint said. But while Libgen staff remain anonymous, the publishers said they also “rely on US companies as intermediaries to operate the sites,” and the companies help disable the operation. Those companies include Cloudflare, Protocol Labs, Namecheap, and Google, which the publishers claim help enable Libgen’s file sharing, proxy services, domain registration, and search engine services.
Thanks in part to these US companies, Libgen operators can “rely on the anonymity of the Internet and their locations abroad to hide their names and addresses and thwart enforcement efforts against them ,” the publishers said.
The publishers hope their lawsuit will finally end years of alleged massive copyright infringement by Libgen, but shadow libraries like Libgen have proven resilient through numerous attacks from the most high level of US law enforcement. Even when the US government arrested the operators of another shadow library called Z-Library last year, Z-Library came back a few months later and found a way to continue operating after the US seized the its login domain.
Ars could not immediately reach lawyers for the publishers or Libgen for comment. [Update: Publishers’ lawyer Matthew Oppenheim told Ars that Libgen is a “thieves’ den” of illegal books, and “there is no question” that Libgen’s conduct is “massively illegal.” Oppenheim said that “really, the only question is why it’s been allowed to exist this long.” He also said that it’s possible that US companies may not realize that they are aiding Libgen’s infringement, but publishers hope that when they “are confronted” with the fact “that this library is massively illegal, that hopefully they will voluntarily do the right thing” and cut off Libgen.]