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Z-Library claims to be the world’s largest ebook library and while Amazon might dispute that, there’s no shortage of content for visitors to enjoy. Boasting 10.8 million ebooks and almost 89 million articles, Z-Library is a formidable resource but in India, problems lie ahead. After a publisher found 10 of its books on Z-Library, a court ordered ISPs to block the site.
Absorbing knowledge online is essentially free but those who curate that knowledge may have their own plans on where, when, and at what price their work is made available.
For millions of website publishers the problem mostly solves itself, but for those who have more restrictive offerings in mind, such as physical book sales or a digital subscription offer, the wider internet can prove to be a disruptive competitor.
Millions of scientific papers, novels, textbooks, and magazines are now just a couple of clicks away, making unlicensed sites like Sci-Hub and Libgen both wildly popular and prime candidates for anti-piracy enforcement. The platforms have proven impossible to close down, so publishers regularly obtain court injunctions that require ISPs to implement blocking.
Sci-Hub is fighting one such case in India and receiving support from both students and academics. But while everyone focused on Sci-Hub’s landmark standoff, seen by some as pivotal for educational equality in a nation of almost 1.4 billion, another lawsuit targeting a similar site slipped into court unnoticed and walked out with a significant prize.
Z-Library Suddenly Becomes Unavailable
A few days ago, Aroon Deep at Entrackr contacted us with an interesting finding. When attempting to access Z-Library, a Libgen-related platform that offers close to 100 million articles and ebooks, something else appeared instead.
“The website has been blocked as per direction/order of Hon’ble Court,” the message read.
Deep found that the same text appeared when accessing Z-library from ISPs including ACT Broadband and Reliance Jio, but which court had ordered the ISPs to block the site and on whose behalf was unknown. The ongoing Sci-Hub/Libgen case has been heavily reported around the world, yet it appears that nobody saw this Z-Library case coming, despite obvious relevance to Sci-Hub and the wider access-to-knowledge debate.
Publisher Targeted Z-Library in a West Delhi Court
The Z-Library blocking mystery was solved yesterday when the Department of Telecommunications disclosed the blocking order and Deep published a link on Twitter.
The document confirms that a judge sitting at a court in Delhi ordered local ISPs to start blocking Z-Library in response to a complaint filed by publisher Taxmann Publications Pvt Ltd. The background to the case laid out in earlier filings shows that at least 12 parties are named as defendants.
Copyright Infringement Allegations
Defendant #1 is listed as z-lib.org and joined by three additional domains – 1lib.in, booksc.org and booksc.eu. Defendants 2 to 10 are internet service providers, including Vodafone, Reliance Jio, Tata Teleservices and Bharti Airtel. Defendants 11 and 12 are Indian government departments, the Ministry of Communications and IT and the Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology (MEITY).
In April 2022, the court heard that Taxmann Publications Pvt Ltd is a reputable company that has spent a “huge amount of money” developing its business. Taxmann, a publisher of books about tax and corporate law, views Z-Library as a “rogue website” engaging in piracy on a grand scale, including by offering pirated copies of ten books for which it owns the rights.
Counsel for the plaintiff said that Z-Library has no physical address where any notice could’ve been served but having reviewed its claim, the court was satisfied that the publisher had a case.
Court Issues Injunction
In an order dated May 12, 2022, District Judge Dinesh Bhatt wrote that since Taxmann owns the rights to the ten books and Z-Library is offering them in electronic format for free, an interim injunction to restrain any future infringments was appropriate.
“In view of the above, defendant no. 1 is restrained from offering the plaintiff’s books (ten books as mentioned in the plaint) for downloading in the PDF format or any other mode on its website,” the order reads.
Two other orders, dated May 21 and August 1, 2022, are currently unavailable for viewing on the court website but in Indian blocking cases, the pattern is well known. Following an order from the court, the two government ministries named as defendants instruct the named ISPs to implement blocking, to prevent their subscribers from accessing the ‘rogue site’ in question.
Compliance with the final blocking order (linked below) will be reviewed in September. Two or three of the ISPs didn’t immediately block the Z-Library domains, which raised warnings from the other ISPs that if they didn’t block together, Z-Library would remain accessible. All ISPs will have to do so now.
Given the scope of the injunction and the limited domains listed, Z-Library is likely to remain accessible via other domains at its disposal. A number of these were temporarily suspended last year by a Chinese registrar following copyright complaints from Harvard, but the decision was later reversed.
The blocking order (Case Number: CS (COMM)/221/2022) can be found here (pdf)