Readers were mourning that their ability to download free textbooks, novels and academic papers had disappeared overnight. Some BookTokers compared the shutdown of the website to the mythical burning of the library of Alexandria in 47 B.C., Hardesty said. “Some even said that shutting it down was an extension of slavery.”
Yet authors across BookTok were relieved. “Piracy costs us our sales, specifically for marginalized authors; it adversely impacts public libraries; and it hurts the publishing industry,” said Nisha Sharma, an author and BookToker. “Essentially when you mourn Z-Library, you are mourning the end of theft.”
Then, neither authors nor readers knew who was behind Z-Library.
The FBI revealed Wednesday that two Russian nationals, Anton Napolsky and Valeriia Ermakova, have been charged with criminal copyright infringement, wire fraud, and money laundering for operating Z-Library.
“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,” said Breon Peace, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, in the first official statement released since the Nov. 4 takedown.
Until it was taken down, the shadow website had been using servers around the world to carry more than 11 million books and 84 million articles since 2009. Over the years, its servers had occasionally disappeared, but always came back. Anyone from across the world — barring India and France, which banned the website earlier this year — could access it.
After the website was removed, BookTokers expressed grief and anger at the shutdown, with many TikToks soundtracked by Taylor Swift singing ‘Good bye, good bye, good bye, you were bigger than the whole sky.”
“It was complete hysteria on BookTok when the website shut down,” said Simon Umba, a social media manager at a cosmetics brand, who is writing her first novel. Z-Library was a huge resource for academic or personal reading, and people were confused about how they would read now.
“The takedown of the website polarized BookTok,” said Kathaleen Mallard, a content creator and a sophomore at Stanford University. “It divided us into factions: readers versus writers.”
Sharma described the atmosphere on BookTok as very contentious.“Writers were threatened for saying that piracy is bad,” she said.
Mary Rasenberger, the CEO of the Authors Guild, an organization of published writers that assisted the FBI in the seizure, said she was delighted to see the website taken down.
As the dust settled, authors and readers began talking to each other, BookTokers said. “We began to understand that the piracy of novels, especially those written by independent authors, is very harmful,” Umba said.
Authors lose out on book sales because of piracy; if they don’t sell enough books, they may not get another book deal. For authors who sell through Amazon, if the marketplace learns the novel is available elsewhere, Amazon may shut down their author accounts. “Piracy is affecting their livelihood,” Umba said.
But textbooks continued to be a sore spot for BookTokers, especially students.
Hardesty said that she had learned about Z-Library from her college professor when she was enrolled in a writing class. The professor told his students that he didn’t want everyone spending $100 on a textbook. “He gave us a link to the textbook on Z-Library, and I realized how easy the website is to use,” she said.
“Textbooks can cost up to $300 per course. Students don’t have that kind of money,” said Marena Herron, a journalism student at Wayne State University and a BookTok creator. “You have to understand that the majority of Z-Library users were just there for the textbooks.”
BookTokers said that that shutdown became contentious because people from all over the world could relate to losing access to books. The takedown wasn’t something that only affected BookTokers or Americans.
“Textbooks are very expensive, and sometimes not available here,” said Salma Eissa, a college student and a BookToker from Cairo. “What are we supposed to do now?”
“My concern with Z-Library is the people who read free pirated fiction for entertainment when they have the ability to purchase fiction,” Sharma said. “When it comes to textbooks, that is a completely separate argument, which is part of a larger problem with the education system.”
Even the Authors Guild issued a statement saying it is sympathetic to the plight of students who have felt forced to resort to illegal pirate websites to manage the extremely high cost of higher education.
“However, these students’ anger is misdirected,” the Guild said, arguing that universities, not authors and publishers, should bear the exorbitant cost of education.
The statement also alleged that the cost of education should not be used to “trivialize the immense personal and economic harm Z-Library was causing authors who are trying to make a living under increasingly difficult and hostile economic circumstances.”
Ironically, the Authors Guild and many BookTokers believe BookTok played a large part in the shutdown.
Rasenberger believes TikTok helped popularize Z-Library. “Piracy concerns from authors accelerated in 2020. Before that the complaints were one-offs,” she said.
On BookTok, in the days after the shutdown, much misguided angst was directed toward a particular BookTok account that had made a viral video collecting 130,000 likes about how to use Z-Library to download Colleen Hoover novels. The creator, which The Post is not naming, experienced so much harassment on BookTok that she shut down her account for a few days.
Since the Z-Library shutdown, BookTok creators have begun making videos on ‘gatekeeping’ — instead of sharing easy-to-follow how-to videos about using the pirate website through torrents, now the overarching message is: Direct message me for instructions and links to books, because we can’t trust anyone.
Authors on BookTok also feel strongly about the adverse effect pirated websites have on public libraries. “Libraries lose out on patrons because of pirated websites like Z-Library, and without patrons they won’t receive funding to order more books next year,” said Sharma.
Some readers, however, pointed out that often libraries don’t carry all the novels young people want to read.
While speaking to her followers on TikTok, Hardesty learned of a 15-year-old girl from Texas who described her mother as extremely religious. “Her mother has to approve all the books she reads,” she said. Anything that seems romantic or with LGBT themes is not allowed in the house.
The teenager also can’t access the fiction she wants to read at the library because Texas has banned many of the books and authors she enjoys. She says she hasn’t read any fiction since the takedown of Z-Library.
Mallard, who said she only ever used Z-Library for accessing textbooks, is also an aspiring novelist, and she believes this gives her a vantage point to see all sides.
“On the one hand, college textbooks are expensive. Education is elitist when it shouldn’t be. And I feel that people, like myself, who used the website for textbooks are really at a loss. Then there is an issue of accessibility, how should we access everything we need,” she said. “But on the other hand, authors of fiction novels don’t deserve for their books to be pirated.”
“It’s not cut and dried. Z-Library helped a lot of people, and it hurt a lot of people,” said Mallard.