Digital database Internet Archive lost the first ruling in a copyright infringement lawsuit filed against the “nonprofit library” by four of the biggest publishing companies.
In June 2020, amid the Covid-19 pandemic, John Wiley & Sons, Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins and Penguin Random House sued Internet Archive over their attempt to create a “National Emergency Library” by uploading countless e-books — or scanned versions of printed books — for users to “borrow” while bookstores and libraries across the nation were shuttered due to the pandemic.
“Its goal of creating digital copies of books and providing them to whomever wants to download them reflects a profound misunderstanding of the costs of creating books, a profound lack of respect for the many contributors involved in the publication process, and a profound disregard of the boundaries and balance of core copyright principles,” the publishers argued at the time.
Internet Archive countered that “as a library, the Internet Archive acquires books and lends them, as libraries have always done. This supports publishing, authors and readers. Publishers suing libraries for lending books, in this case protected digitized versions, and while schools and libraries are closed, is not in anyone’s interest.”
Nearly two years later, the lawsuit went before a U.S. District Court in Manhattan, where the judge ruled that Internet Archive was producing “derivative” works that required permission from the publishers as the copyright holders. “An ebook recast from a print book is a paradigmatic example of a derivative work,” Judge John G. Koeltl wrote in his decision, adding that the publishers already license their own authorized e-books to libraries (via The Associated Press).
In a statement following the ruling, Internet Archive — which also houses millions of other materials, including films, TV broadcasts, radio and music recordings, photographs and more — pledged to appeal the lower court’s decision.
“Today’s lower court decision in Hachette v. Internet Archive is a blow to all libraries and the communities we serve. This decision impacts libraries across the US who rely on controlled digital lending to connect their patrons with books online,” they wrote. “It hurts authors by saying that unfair licensing models are the only way their books can be read online. And it holds back access to information in the digital age, harming all readers, everywhere.”
Internet Archive founder Brewster Kahle added, “Libraries are more than the customer service departments for corporate database products. For democracy to thrive at global scale, libraries must be able to sustain their historic role in society—owning, preserving, and lending books. This ruling is a blow for libraries, readers, and authors and we plan to appeal it.”
In Sept. 2022, hundreds of authors — including Neil Gaiman, Naomi Klein, Cory Doctorow and more, as well as Tom Morello, Daniel Ellsberg and Lilly Wachowski — signed a Fight for the Future open letter in support of Internet Archive and asking that the publishers withdraw their lawsuit.
“Libraries are a fundamental collective good. We, the undersigned authors, are disheartened by the recent attacks against libraries being made in our name by trade associations such as the American Association of Publishers and the Publishers Association: undermining the traditional rights of libraries to own and preserve books, intimidating libraries with lawsuits, and smearing librarians,” they wrote.