Updated: Book Publishers Force Down Piracy Sites

Update: Andi Sporkin of the Association of American Publishers contacted me shortly after this story was published. She says the publishers did not obtain control of the sites but that the site operators themselves decided to shut down or redirect the sites.

Faced with a proliferation of unauthorized book-sharing sites, the publishing industry is embracing some of the same legal tactics as their counterparts in the music and movie industry.

On Wednesday morning, an international coalition of publishers said they squelched two websites, library.nu and file.it. The industry described the sites as “one of the largest pirate web-based businesses in the world” and that the former site alone offered more than 400,000 copyrighted titles.

According to the release, the shut-down is the culmination of a long investigation in which the publishers struggled to identify who ran the sites. The site operators, who allegedly earned millions in advertising revenue, were finally located in Ireland. The publishers say they have commenced legal proceedings in both Ireland and Germany.

It’s not immediately possible to verify the claims, but the sites were down on Wednesday afternoon.

In the bigger picture, the announcement reinforces the publishing industry’s full-scale entry into a new phase of the copyright wars in which content owners are banding together to target foreign websites. The most dramatic recent example came last month when law enforcement seized the servers of file-sharing site Megaupload and arrested its owners in a dramatic raid.

Content owners’ recent success in taking down foreign websites also adds grist to the debate of whether new legal powers, like those in the failed SOPA bill, are actually necessary to target piracy.

The publishers’ aggressiveness overseas mirrors similar domestic efforts in the US. This week, publisher John Wiley launched a new series of “John Doe” suits to identify individuals who had downloaded its “For Dummies” books.

Note: An earlier version of this story stated that library.nu redirected to Google (NSDQ: GOOG) Books. The site is no longer doing so and it is unclear why it was doing so before. A Google representative said the company was unaware of the issue.