A group of educational publishers this week filed suit against e-commerce service Shopify, accusing the company of contributory and vicarious copyright and trademark infringement for allegedly facilitating the sale of pirated textbooks and educational materials. The action was filed in federal court in Virginia by Bedford, Freeman & Worth Publishing Group, Macmillan Learning, Cengage Learning, Elsevier, McGraw Hill, and Pearson Education.

Shopify is a subscription e-commerce service that, among its services, enables businesses to set up and maintain digital storefronts, process payments, and get access to a suite of marketing and customer services. The problem, the publishers claim, is that the service is being used by pirates and Shopify executives are allegedly refusing to act even when alerted to the allegedly infringing activities on its site.

"When Shopify learns of specific instances of copyright and trademark infringement, Shopify shirks its legal obligations by continuing to assist repeat infringers in their infringement," the complaint states. "Shopify not only provides its repeat-infringer subscribers with the tools they need to run their illegal businesses, but also provides them with anonymity, a false veneer of legitimacy, and a safe haven from which to break the law. When Shopify becomes aware that one of its subscribers is using its services to infringe, Shopify must do something about it. Blindly ignoring piracy in order to make more money, as Shopify does here, is not a lawful option.

Among the relief requested, the suit seeks a declaration that Shopify has infringed the publishers' copyrights and trademarks, as well as injunctive relief and monetary damages.

The action is the latest in a blitz of lawsuits filed by educational publishers against alleged pirate sites. In September, five of the plaintiffs won a preliminary injunction in federal court blocking the operations of some 60 anonymously controlled websites accused of selling “illegal, unlicensed copies” of digital editions, the fourth successful action in two years for the plaintiffs under an initiative known as the Educational Publishers Enforcement Group.