Publisher ‘Maus’ Penguin Random House wants the book removed from the Internet Archive

When a Tennessee school board pulled the Holocaust graphic novel Maus of its program, citing false problems with the title, there was a well-deserved uproar.

The reaction to a perceived book ban is perhaps not so surprising. But the renewed interest in Maus seems to have surprised some; namely, its publisher, Penguin Random House.

Now that Maus is on Bestseller lists, more than 40 years after it was first published, the book’s publisher is seeking to have the book deleted from the Internet Archive’s digital library. Why? So the fact that the graphic novel is freely available online does not affect book sales.

Chris Freeland, director of the Internet Archive’s Open Libraries program, explained how Penguin Random House recently approached the nonprofit, demanding that Maus be removed from its digital library, in an editorial published by ZDNet. Citing the editor’s own words, Freeland said the removal request was related to the fact that “consumer interest in Maus flew.”

These booming book sales are, of course, the result of a school board limiting book access. The work of Pulitzer Prize-winning author Art Spiegelman, who uses cats and mice to recount his father’s experience as a Holocaust survivor, has been used by many schools to help teach the atrocities of this period to children. Penguin House’s request is colored by this context, which makes it seem like the publisher is trying to cash in on a fight of culture wars. (Which is.)

This is far from the first time book publishers have challenged the Internet Archive’s library. In 2020, as public libraries across the country remained closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, publishers for follow-up Internet Archive and accused the organization of “massive copyright infringement”.

The Internet Archive replied at trial, denying the allegations. The nonprofit says its digital library serves the public good, just like a physical public library, and is protected by fair use. The trial is still pending.

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The Director of Open Libraries at the Internet Archive has a very simple point about this: increasing access to literature is important, and digital libraries operate the same way as public libraries.

“When a local government entity banned this book, the publisher decided to remove it from the shelves of a digital library, preventing our customers from reading it in order to derive maximum profit from it,” Freedland writes. “The lending by the Internet Archive of a digital version of the book did nothing to diminish Mausthe recent surge in sales. Even so, the publisher has decided that they should do everything possible to remove the book from our library.”

“Turns out you can burn a digital book,” he says.