May 22, 2022

Authors Guild: “Controlled Digital Lending is Neither Controlled Nor Legal”

From an Authors Guild Blog Post:

Recently, Internet Archive’s Open Library has started rejecting notices sent by Guild members asking for unauthorized digital copies of their books to be taken down, citing that it “operates consistently with the ‘Controlled Digital Lending.’” There are two problems with the justification. First, although Internet Archive managed to convince the State of California that it is a “library,” as a website open to the whole world, it is not a library with a defined user base in any traditional sense. Second, copyright law does not support the practice of even true, traditional libraries offering unauthorized scans of books to its users on an e-lending basis, despite the patina of legality in the white paper.

CDL relies on an incorrect interpretation of copyright’s “fair use” doctrine to give legal cover to Open Library and potentially other CDL users’ outright piracy—scanning books without permission and lending those copies via the internet. By restricting access to one user at a time for each copy that the library owns, the proponents analogize scanning and creating digital copies to physically lending a legally purchased book. Although it sounds like an appealing argument, the CDL concept is based on a faulty legal argument that has already been rejected by the U.S. courts.


CDL’s threat to author incomes and the ebook market comes from two directions: 1) unauthorized scanning and e-lending of books that were previously published only in physical formats would usurp the market for creating new ebook versions; and 2) instead of purchasing library ebook licenses (which are more expensive than consumer editions for good reason), libraries would simply digitize the print book from their collection, depriving authors and publishers of important licensing income. Needless to say, if Internet Archive’s plans to expand Open Library broadly to all libraries are realized, it would eventually decimate the market for library ebooks, put a massive dent in the ebook market in general, and usurp authors’ rights to bring their older works back into the market.

Positions like CDL serve to widen the misperception that authors and public libraries are on opposing sides of copyright law, which is simply not the case. Most librarians respect authors and copyright law, and they want authors to be able to keep writing. The vast majority of authors, for their part, support and love their libraries and want libraries to own and circulate their works. But authors need to be compensated for their work like everyone else.

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About Gary Price

Gary Price ( is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.