Earlier this month, the FBI seized several websites associated with Z-Library, one of the world’s largest repositories of pirated books and articles. On Wednesday, the Department of Justice revealed that at the same time it seized the sites, two Russian national who allegedly operated Z-Library were arrested in Argentina at the request of the United States.
The two Russians, Napolsky and Valeriia Ermakova, are charged in a Federal court in Brooklyn with criminal copyright infringement, wire fraud, and money laundering for operating Z-Library.
“As alleged, the defendants profited illegally off work they stole, often uploading works within mere hours of publication, and in the process victimized authors, publishers and booksellers,” United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Breon Peace said in a statement.
According to the unsealed indictment, Z-Library, which has been active since around 2009, bills itself as “the world’s largest library” and claims to offer more than 11 million e-books for download. “In addition to its homepage, Z-Library operates as a complex network of approximately 249 interrelated web domains. As part of this action, those domains were taken offline and seized by the U.S. government,” the Department of Justice said in its press release.
As Motherboard reported last week, Z-Library was taken down after authors and publishers complained that users were using TikTok to promote it as a place to pirate books and articles.
“The hashtag #zlibrary on popular social media platform TikTok has 19 million views, in reference to the countless videos posted by college and high school students and others across the world promoting it as the go-to place for free ebooks,” the Authors Guild, wrote in a complaint to the Office of U.S. Trade Representative on October 7.
In its press release, the Department of Justice said it “extends its particular appreciation to The Authors Guild in New York and The Publishers Association in London for their assistance.”
Dave Hansen, executive director of Authors Alliance—a nonprofit that supports authors who want their works to gain broad public availability—told Motherboard last week that the FBI took down Z-Library in part of a wider effort to limit access to pirated content that is normally locked behind a paywall.
He said that countless students and researchers who rely on shadow libraries will be hit hardest by the seizure.
“It's really a kind of symptom of how broken the system is, particularly when you're looking at access to scientific articles,” Hansen told Motherboard. “It really speaks to the failure of the paywall subscription access system that we have.”