Free books, pirate libraries move to the dark web

Free books, pirate libraries move to the dark web

Free books

Z-Library, one of the largest digital "libraries" with free books, was recently shut down by US authorities. Its operators have been arrested and charged with copyright infringement, wire fraud and money laundering. Digital archivists have worked hard to create "mirror sites" to continue to provide access to the more than ten million books and eighty million items on the Z-Library. Mirror sites are replicas of the original: they have different urls but host the same content.

But the future of pirated digital archives, also known as "shadow libraries", appears highly uncertain. LibGen, the largest repository of pirated academic texts, is also going through a critical phase. Its mirrors have dropped from five to two in the past three years. There is still no precise explanation as to why this decline. One reason could be the difficulty of sustaining the work of "shadow archivist" in the long term, which requires time and energy.

The role of the community

The future of free archives largely depends on the efforts of volunteers. In the spring of 2021 another famous digital archive, Sci-Hub, had been targeted by the FBI. Her creator, Alexandra Elbakyan, had shared a communication from Apple on Twitter: the company notified her of the sharing of her personal data with the police.

Twitter content This content can also be viewed on the site it originates from.

Sci-Hub users and supporters have launched a public appeal on Reddit to create a backup of the archive. On the same sub-reddit, a call was shared in February 2020 to make thousands of free articles on the Coronavirus available, an operation defined by its promoters as a "moral imperative".

Shadow libraries are gradually moving to anonymous networks, such as Tor or the peer-to-peer Interplanetary File System network. The links to reach the archive were  posted (and then eliminated) on Reddit: it is probable that several links to reach the collections are present on the dark web. The Torrent Freak site reported that the Tor link to reach Z-Library was unreachable for a period of time, but then it worked again.

Pirate sites such as LibGen and Z-Library have always been very useful to students and researchers who do not have the economic resources to purchase copyrighted materials or who live in areas where access to traditional libraries is available. An example of this is the students of the Global South, who typically have fewer opportunities to access academic texts, even through the university institutions themselves.