The Association of American Publishers filed suit December 9 to stop a new library e-book law in Maryland from taking effect on January 1, claiming that the law, which would require publishers who offer to license e-books to consumers in the state to also offer to license the works to libraries on "reasonable" terms, is unconstitutional and runs afoul of federal copyright law.
In its filing, the AAP alleges that the Maryland law effectively “commandeers the rights" of publishers and authors.
"In short, the Maryland Act will bring to bear the considerable coercive powers of the State of Maryland to unilaterally force publishers to disseminate their digital literary works to Maryland libraries on an unlimited basis and on terms dictated by the State of Maryland, whenever publishers disseminate those works to anyone else, anywhere else," reads the AAP's December complaint. "The Maryland Act’s requirements are in flagrant violation of the authority granted to publishers by federal law to decide whether and on what terms to make their works available in order to achieve the full benefit and promise of the Copyright Act."
In a statement, Maria A. Pallante, president and CEO of the AAP, said state legislators lacked the authority "to create a shadow copyright act" or to "manipulate the value" of intellectual property.
“It is unambiguous that the U.S. Copyright Act governs the disposition of literary works in commerce—and for that matter, all creative works of authorship," Pallante said. "We take this encroachment very seriously as the threat that it is to a viable, independent publishing industry in the United States and to a borderless copyright economy.”
The suit seeks an order declaring the Maryland law “void and unenforceable because it is preempted by federal law and unconstitutional,” as well a preliminary and permanent injunction against enforcement of the act.
In addition, the AAP made public a letter (signed by a number of other copyright industry groups) to New York governor Kathy Hochul, urging her to veto New York's version of the bill, which passed in June.
While the New York bill, like Maryland, pertains to e-books and similar works, it is of "grave concern," the letter states, "to other creative industries that do significant business and employ tens of thousands of people in New York, including motion pictures, news publishers, music, and software.”
The Authors Guild was one of more than 20 organizations to sign the letter and it also issued a statement in support of AAP's action against Maryland. Guild CEO Mary Rasenberger said she finds it "alarming" that several similar laws are pending in other states. The Guild said it believes if the AAP’s lawsuit, is successful, it will have consequences beyond the state of Maryland by alerting other states of the law's unconstitutionality. The guild added that it will "continue to voice its objections to these laws, and we will mobilize its members to oppose them in their states."
As of Thursday evening, the New York bill has not yet been delivered to Hochul for signature or veto. Under state law, however, the bill must be presented to the governor by the end of the calendar year. Hochul will then have 10 days to sign or veto the bill. However, because the New York legislature is technically still in session, the bill will become law if Hochul fails to act within 10 days of being presented with the bill.
First introduced in January 2021, the Maryland law (SB432/HB518) passed the Maryland General Assembly unanimously on March 10, taking root as a response to Macmillan's (since abandoned) 2019 embargo on frontlist e-book titles, which prompted numerous appeals to both federal and state legislators.
The suit is the second major copyright lawsuit from the AAP now underway. It is currently coordinating a lawsuit by four major publishers against the Internet Archive over its program to scan and lend library books under an untested legal theory known as controlled digital lending.