Textbook publishers sue Shopify, claiming it harbours pirates

A group of five publishers launched a legal action against online retail company Shopify, accusing it of profiting from the sale of pirated textbooks.

Macmillan Learning, Cengage Learning, Elsevier, McGraw Hill, and Pearson Education claim that Shopify is allowing several websites to illegally reproduce and sell the textbooks, manuals and other educational materials that are "substantially indistinguishable" from the originals.

Shopify – which doesn't sell goods itself but provides the platform for other merchants to do so online – is a Canadian company but operates server facilities in Virginia, where the lawsuit has been filed.

The company has been accused in the past of allowing its retail customers to offer counterfeit and pirated goods and content, Last year, a report by online security specialist FakeSpot claimed that out of 124,000 Shopify stores reviewed, 26,000 were suspected of "fraudulent practices."

It has also been found to be a source of counterfeit COVID-19 vaccination certificates, according to an investigation by cybersecurity company DomainTools.

The lawsuit brought by the publishers says that Shopify is a " host, enabler, and protector" of digital textbook pirates. It has been repeatedly asked to take action against offending stores without taking action, placing " corporate finances over its legal obligations," it continues.

The publishers are asking for damages up to and including $150,000 per infringed copy rights and $2m per trademark.

For its part, Shopify insists that it takes swift action when it is notified of intellectual property violations, with 90 per cent of notified violations reviewed within 24 hours.

"We recognise there will be those – however few they may be relative to our base of more than one million merchants – that may abuse our service, and we take this matter seriously," it said.

"To date, we have terminated thousands of stores and routinely implement new measures to address fraud and other activities that violate our policies."

Shopify has seen its sales surge as bricks and mortar businesses have taken advantage of its storefront creator to open new online sales channels. In the third quarter revenues rose 46% to $1.12bn.

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