15 June 2020CopyrightSarah Morgan

Litigation prompts Internet Archive to end emergency library

The  Internet Archive has ended its national emergency library earlier than planned, following a copyright infringement lawsuit filed by four publishers.

In March this year, the Internet Archive launched its emergency library, expanding access to 1.4 million digitised works and removing access restrictions to the books.

It was immediately met with  criticism from authors and author and publishers associations, with the Authors Guild in the US stating that it was shocked that the service would “use the COVID-19 epidemic as an excuse to push copyright law further out to the edges, and in doing so, harm authors, many of whom are already struggling”.

Then, earlier this month, major book publishers  Hachette Book Group,  HarperCollins,  John Wiley & Sons, and  Penguin Random House took the  Internet Archive to court, accusing it of  intentional and systematic copyright infringement.

But the suit wasn’t just aimed at the emergency library project. The publishers accused the Internet Archive of piracy through its Open Library, an online project launched in 2006 to create “one web page for every book ever published”.

The four publishers  argued that the Internet Archive is “flagrantly and fraudulently” acting outside of any legal framework, through its “purposeful collection of truckloads of in-copyright books to scan, reproduce, and then distribute digital bootleg versions online”.

They also hit out at the Internet Archive’s argument that its scanning activities are supported under the controlled digital lending legal theory.

With the launch of the emergency library, restrictions that limited the number of scanned copies of a title available for download at any one time to match the number of print versions in its collection were lifted. Under the project, an unlimited number of people were able to check out the same book at the same time.

The Internet Archive had intended to keep the emergency library running until June 30, but last week the archive  announced its plan to close the project two weeks early.

“We moved up our schedule because, last Monday, four commercial publishers chose to sue Internet Archive during a global pandemic,” said the Internet Archive. “The complaint attacks the concept of any library owning and lending digital books, challenging the very idea of what a library is in the digital world.”

According to the Internet Archive, this suit stands in “contrast to some academic publishers who initially expressed concerns” about the emergency library, but ultimately decided to work with the Internet Archive to provide access to people cut off from their physical schools and libraries.

“We hope that similar cooperation is possible here, and the publishers call off their costly assault,” it added.

It is unclear whether the publishers will now drop their suit.

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