Richter sides with publishers in litigation over Internet Archive’s online library: NPR

Books line the shelves at the Rice University Library in Houston in April 2022. Brandon Bell/Getty Images hides the caption

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Books line the shelves at the Rice University Library in Houston in April 2022.

Brandon Bell/Getty Images

A federal judge has ruled in favor of a group of book publishers who sued the nonprofit Internet Archive for scanning and lending digital copies of copyrighted books in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic.

The four publishers — Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins, John Wiley & Sons and Penguin Random House — accused the Internet Archive of “mass copyright infringement” for lending digital copies of books without the publisher’s permission.

It’s about the National Emergency Library, a temporary online collection established in 2020 that lent digital books while brick-and-mortar libraries were closed during the COVID-19 lockdowns. It operated from March 24 to June 16 of that year.

With its other online collections, the Internet Archive loaned one digital copy of a book to one reader at a time, but the nonprofit suspended that policy for the National Emergency Library and allowed many readers to check out the same book at once.

The Internet Archive, which strives to provide “universal access to all knowledge,” said its emergency online library is legal under the fair use doctrine.

But on Friday, US District Court Judge John G. Koeltl of the Southern District of New York sided with the publishers, saying the law is on their side.

“Basically, IA’s fair use defense rests on the notion that the lawful acquisition of a copyrighted printed book entitles the recipient to make an unauthorized copy and distribute it in place of the printed book, so long as he does not also receive the printed one Book lends.” Költl said in his opinion.

“But no case or legal principle supports this notion. Every authority points in the other direction.”

Koeltl noted that the Internet Archive can still scan and publish copies of books in the public domain.

The Authors Guild, a professional organization for published authors, praised the ruling, saying that “scanning and lending books without authorization or compensation is NOT fair use — it is theft and it debases the authors’ works.” The Association of American Publishers said the ruling reaffirmed the importance of copyright law.

The Internet Archive announced that it would appeal the verdict.

In a statement, Internet Archive founder Brewster Kahle indicated that the judge’s opinion would harm libraries, readers and authors.

“Libraries are more than customer service departments for corporate database products,” said Kahle. “For democracy to thrive on a global scale, libraries must be able to maintain their historical role in society – to own, preserve, and lend books.”

Authors have previously criticized the Internet Archive, accusing the nonprofit of flouting established book lending rules and lending works without permission, depriving authors of potential revenue.

The National Emergency Library was just part of the Internet Archive, which is also known for its popular website archiving service, the Wayback Machine.


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