In what publishers are calling a significant copyright victory, a German court has approved an injunction filed by six academic publishers -- including four founding members of the electronic textbook consortium CourseSmart -- against the file-sharing company RapidShare AG. The injunction prohibits the company from giving away digital copies of dozens of scholarly titles.
The publishers hope the court's decision will put a stop to RapidShare’s practice of providing free access to 148 e-books, most of them academic. In a resolution issued this month, the three-judge court warned that violations could cost the company up to €250,000 each.
Susan Spilka, a spokeswoman for the publisher John Wiley & Sons, said that while the publishers believe RapidShare has violated copyrights on other titles as well, the 148 involved in the injunction are by far the most heavily downloaded.
“This is a big win, because RapidShare is one of the primary file sharing sites in the world where copyrighted material is being routinely downloaded for free,” said Tom Allen, president of the Association of American Publishers. “RapidShare has become a huge problem for the publishing industry.”
In addition to Wiley, the plaintiffs in the case are publishing giants Cengage Learning, Pearson Education, McGraw-Hill, Elsevier, and Bedford Freeman & Worth.
RapidShare, which provides free access to many different types of digital file types in addition to e-books, offers free downloads and makes money by selling premium accounts to users who want to download more efficiently.
RapidShare’s press e-mail account would not accept messages from Inside Higher Ed, and a request for comment sent to its support address was not immediately answered.
Maria Danzilow, legal director for higher education at Wiley, said RapidShare was “by far” the single biggest threat to higher education publishing as far pirating sites, estimating that it was responsible for more than a quarter of unauthorized downloads of e-books and learning materials. She said Wiley plans to go after similar sites as well.
Allen said he hoped other unauthorized file-sharing sites would take heed. “You can at least imagine where other file sharing sites take note of this and reform their practices,” he said.
Update, 2/24: RapidShare plans to appeal the court's decision, a spokesperson for the company said in an e-mail today.
"Copyright law was made for a world of physical goods, where prevention does not interfere with the privacy rights of millions of people," said the spokesperson. "In the internet age, prevention like preemptive control of uploads naturally leads to the violation of the data privacy of millions of other users, that have not even been suspected of any wrong doing, by monitoring their private communication."
"Basically," she added, "this boils down to a discussion about how society wants to balance the need for protection of copyright versus the protection of data privacy."