In March 2020, the Internet Archive – an organization founded in 1996 by multi-millionaire Brewster Kahle – launched a “National Emergency Library” that made 1.4 million digital books available online for free as a means to address “our unprecedented global and immediate need for access to reading and research material” during the Covid-19 outbreak. However, instead of adhering to a “one-in, one-out” ebook lending system used by public libraries, the Internet Archive suspended waitlists and announced that it would lend books to anyone in the world at the same time – denying authors the revenue they deserve and urgently need during the economic downturn caused by the Coronavirus.
On June 1, 2020, the Association of American Publishers (AAP) filed suit against the Internet Archive on behalf of numerous book publisher members, including Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins Publishers, John Wiley & Sons, and Penguin Random House. The suit asks the court to enjoin IA’s mass scanning and distribution of literary works that it offers to the public through both its “Open Library” and “National Emergency Library.” According to a statement released by AAP, its CEO Maria Pallante noted, “[The] complaint [filed] illustrates that the Internet Archive is conducting and promoting copyright infringement on a massive scale. In scanning and distributing literary works to which it has no legal or contractual rights, IA deliberately misappropriates the intellectual and financial investments of authors and publishers and brazenly ignores the copyright law that Congress enacted. According to a statement by Copyright Alliance CEO Keith Kupferschmid, he noted, “For too long, IA has brazenly scanned and distributed published works while refusing to abide by the traditional contours of copyright law. IA would like the public to believe that the books are rare and older titles used for research, but in reality, they are scanning and distributing recent works, fiction and non-fiction, thrillers and kids’ books — all without the authority of publishers and authors and well beyond the scope of what is permitted by copyright law.” According to an Authors Guild statement, President and author Doug Preston added, “Internet Archive’s wholesale scanning and posting of copyrighted books without the consent of authors, and without paying a dime, is piracy hidden behind a sanctimonious veil of progressivism.”
In mid-June, the Internet Archive closed its National Emergency Library ahead of schedule, but Kahle continued to defend the Internet Archive’s efforts. In a New York Times article, he was quoted as saying, “As a library, the Internet Archive acquires books and lends them, as libraries have always done. This supports publishing and 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.”
Unfortunately for the Internet Archive and Kahle, authors and publishers broadly disagree with this approach and sentiment. According to a statement quoting authors Malcolm Gladwell, John Grisham, Elizabeth Gilbert and Douglas Preston, the “wholesale scanning and posting of copyrighted books without the consent of authors, and without paying a dime, is piracy hidden behind a sanctimonious veil of progressivism.”
Please see below for more information regarding industry and media responses to the Internet Archive’s “National Emergency Library” and to its continued efforts to lend books without compensating authors and publishers.