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Home » Internet Archive loses lawsuit for violating e-book copyright. What You Need to Know

Internet Archive loses lawsuit for violating e-book copyright. What You Need to Know

Copyright Infringement

A federal judge decided in favor of the four biggest publishers in the U.S. who sued the Internet Archive for scanning and lending out countless digital copies of copyrighted books for free during the early days of COVID-19.

Following the nonprofit’s offering of a National Emergency Library, a temporary book collection made from thousands of e-books that ran from March 24, 2020, to June 16, 2020, Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins, John Wiley & Sons, and Penguin Random House all filed lawsuits against the organisation. The Internet Archive says the emergency library was developed to support those who lost access to their physical libraries during the pandemic.

For the National Emergency Library, the Internet Archive was lending out multiple copies of a digital book at once, and the four publishers sued over 127 books in the collection. Publishers claim there was “mass copyright infringement” even though the Internet Archive claimed the National Emergency Library was permissible under the fair use doctrine.

Judge John G. Koeltl of the U.S. District Court concurred with the plaintiffs, stating that by converting print books into e-books and disseminating them, the Internet Archive was creating “derivative” works. It is no longer permitted to do so.

“Libraries are more than the customer service departments for corporate database products. Brewster Kahle, the inventor of the Internet Archive, stated that libraries must be able to continue playing their traditional role in society—owning, saving, and lending books—for democracy to flourish on a worldwide scale. We intend to challenge this decision since it is a setback for libraries, users, and authors.

Here are some key details about the case

The Internet Archive: What is it?

A nonprofit organization called The Internet Archive has created a “digital library” of public access websites, books, audio recordings, films, photographs, and other study materials. Anyone can browse websites that are no longer active from more than 25 years ago through digital archives like their Wayback machine. The charity has been scanning books since 2005. As of now, it scans books in 18 sites around the world, processing more than 4,000 every day.

According to the court ruling, 3.6 million of the books in the Internet Archive’s online database are copyrighted. The Internet Archive converts print books into electronic books by scanning them.

They provide free, downloadable books that were released before 1927 out of those millions. Only their Open Library, whose mission is to “make all the written works of humankind available to everyone in the world,” allows for the borrowing of other more contemporary publications. Readers can borrow the book’s digital version by simply creating a free account.

Also, the nonprofit is a part of a number of organisations, such as the American Library Association and the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions.

The Internet Archive argued what?

The first-sale concept, which grants persons who hold a copyrighted book the right to sell, display, or lend that copy, is the reason libraries are permitted to loan actual books to users.

Under the Internet Archive’s regular model, it does not allow users to mass download e-books. Instead, it functions through “controlled digital lending,” which allows “entit[ies] that own a physical book to scan that book and circulate [the] digitised title in place of [the] physical one in a controlled manner.”

But controlled digital lending also requires that libraries only lend the number of copies it owns. The Internet Archive counts its own physical copy of a book, and up to one book copy owned by its partner libraries to dictate the number of e-books it can lend.

But during the pandemic, it was lending out more digital book copies than it was legally allowed to, according to the courts.

Because of the fair use doctrine, The Internet Archive claims that it did not violate any copyrights. This doctrine says that usage for “purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of content copyright,” per the court’s opinion.

There was nothing “transformative” about Internet Archive’s use of e-books that gave it the right to “scan those books and lend the digital copies en masse,” according to Koeltl, who ruled that it did not follow these standards when launching the National Emergency Library as well as in its more extensive use of the lending library.

IA’s fair use defence is based on the idea that someone who legitimately obtains a copyrighted print book is entitled to make an unauthorised copy of it and distribute it in its place, so long as they don’t also lend the print copy, continued Koeltl. “Yet, no precedent or rule of law supports such idea. Every authority points the other direction.”

Public domain books can still be scanned and distributed by The Internet Archive.

What is the public’s response to the case?

On March 25, The Authors Guild, a group that provides professional writers with services ranging from legal advice to defending authors’ copyrights, tweeted that it was “thrilled” by the court’s ruling.

The statement continued, “As we have long argued, scanning and lending books without authorization or payment is NOT fair use—it is theft and it devalues authors’ works.

The Guild further asserted that it had previously contacted the Internet Archive to provide a license for books used on the Open Library, but the nonprofit group had turned it down.

However, more than 300 famous authors—including Naomi Klein, Neil Gaiman, Hanif Abdurraqib, Chuck Wendig, and Cory Doctorow—previously signed an open letter requesting publishers and trade organizations to drop the lawsuit in late September.

According to Dan Gillmor, co-founder of News Co/Lab, an effort to improve news literacy at Arizona State University, “Big Publishing would outlaw public libraries if it could — or at least make it impossible for libraries to buy and lend books as they have traditionally done, to enormous public benefit.”


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