A debriefing on the conflict between Internet Archive and book publishers

Internet Archive, a not-for-profit digital library and vast collection of online artifacts, has been collecting memorabilia from the ever-expanding World Wide Web for over two decades, enabling users to revisit sites that have since been modified or deleted. But like the internet, it has also evolved since its inception, and in recent years it has also started offering a selection of e-books that any internet user can check out by creating a free account.

The latter got the organization into some trouble. Internet Archive was sued in 2020 by a group of four corporate publishers over copyright controversies – with one side saying what Internet Archive does is preservation and the other saying it is piracy since it sells books as image files distributed freely without compensation to the author.

Last week, the ongoing case entered a new chapter when the nonprofit filed a summary judgment motion, asking a federal judge to drop the lawsuit, arguing that its controlled digital lending program is “lawful fair use that surpasses traditional Library preserves lending in the digital world” because “every book loaned via CDL is already bought and paid for”. On Friday, Creative Commons released a statement in support of Internet Archive’s application.

The public libraries in your neighborhood typically work with platforms like Overdrive, Libby, Hoopla, and Cloud Library to provide digital copies of books for them to check out. But these library e-books are part of a surprisingly complex and lucrative financial structure (article by Daniel A. Gross in The New Yorker deep insights into the business behind library e-books). In addition, users with an existing library card number must log into these services.

Internet Archive works a little differently. Anyone can create a free account and browse materials such as books, movies, software, music, websites and more.

The site’s beginnings date back to 1996, when the Internet Archive was first established to preserve “a historical record of the World Wide Web.” Its mission is to “Provide universal access to all knowledge”, including researchers, historians, scholars, people with reading disabilities such as visual impairment and dyslexia, and the general public. One of his popular tools, The Wayback Machine, offers nostalgic glimpses of the public web before sites went offline or were reconstructed. And that’s not an easy task as content on the internet is increasing exponentially these days.

[Related: How to read the Popular Science archives]

In 2006, Internet Archive launched a program to digitize books that are both in copyright and in the public domain. It works with a range of global partners, including other libraries, to scan materials onto its website (Cornell University has released a handy guide on what works are in copyright and in the public domain). For in-copyright books, Internet Archive owns the physical books from which they made the digital copies restricts their distribution B. by allowing only one person to borrow a title at a time.

Book publishers, namely the Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins, John Wiley Sons and Penguin Random House, were not enthusiastic about this practice and demanded financial damages for the 127 copyright-shared books. vox It is estimated that if the publishers win, Internet Archive would have to pay $19 million, which is about “a year’s worth of operating income.”

In recent filings, the publishers accused Internet Archive of “amassing a collection of more than three million unauthorized in-copyright e-books — including more than 33,000 publishers’ commercially available titles — without obtaining licenses for them or notifying the rightsholders pay a cent for the exploitation of their works. Anyone in the world with an internet connection can instantly access these stolen works through IA’s interconnected archive.org and openlibrary.org websites.”

In its defense, Internet Archive, which is represented by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, says that “libraries have been practicing CDL in one form or another for more than a decade” and that Internet Archive has funded its digitized books on its “own on a loan basis, backed by strong technical safeguards to enforce credit limits.”

“CDL makes books easier to access for users who live far from a physical library or have print disabilities. It supports research, science and cultural participation in many ways,” wrote EFF and Internet Archive in a memorandum.

In addition, said the founder of the Internet Archive, Brewster Kahle vox in 2020 that “when nonprofit libraries have been sued in the past for helping their users access their collections, courts have ruled that they were complicit in fair use, as in the HathiTrust case.” A similar ruling was issued for a lawsuit against Google Books.

Interested in further reviewing Internet Archive? Go to their website to read their content catalogue.

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