2 June 2020CopyrightSarah Morgan

Publishers sue Internet Archive over 'industrial scale' piracy

Four major book publishers have taken the Internet Archive to court, alleging the online library is engaged in “willful mass copyright infringement”.

In a suit filed yesterday, June 1 at the US District Court for the Southern District of New York,  Hachette Book Group,  HarperCollins,  John Wiley & Sons, and  Penguin Random House took aim at the  Internet Archive over its Open Library and its recently-launched national emergency library project.

Launched in 2006, the  Open Library is an online project intended to create “one web page for every book ever published”.

In March, the non-profit Internet Archive  launched its emergency library project, expanding access to 1.4 million digitised works and removing access restrictions to the books.

The project drew criticism from authors, and author and publishers associations, who accused the Internet Archive of making an “opportunistic attack” on the rights of authors and publishers amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

Later in April, the Internet Archive  hit back at US Senator Thom Tillis, who claimed that he was “deeply concerned” the initiative is “operating outside the boundaries” of copyright law.

Yesterday’s lawsuit accused the non-profit of intentional and systematic copyright infringement, through the production of “mirror-image copies of millions of unaltered in-copyright works for which it has no rights” and distribution of them to the public for free.

“Despite the ‘Open Library’ moniker, Internet Archive’s actions grossly exceed legitimate library services, do violence to the Copyright Act, and constitute wilful digital piracy on an industrial scale,” added the claim.

According to the four publishers, 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”.

The publishers took aim at the Internet Archive’s argument that its scanning activities are supported under the controlled digital lending legal theory.

Mimicking the constraints of a physical library, the Internet Archive would limit the number of scanned copies of a title available for download at any one time to the number of print books of that title in its collection.

But, with the launch of the national emergency library these restrictions were lifted, with the Internet Archive allowing an unlimited number of people to check out the same book at the same time.

“Internet Archive’s blatant, willful infringement is all the more egregious for its timing, which comes at the very moment that many authors, publishers, and independent bookstores, not to mention libraries, are both struggling to survive amidst economic uncertainty and planning deliberatively for future, changing markets,” said the publishers.

The publishers have asked the court for an injunction and damages.

The Internet Archive founder Brewster Kahle described the lawsuit as “disappointing” and said he hoped it could be resolved quickly.

In a  blog post, he said: “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 digitised versions, and while schools and libraries are closed, is not in anyone’s interest.”

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More on this story

31 March 2020   Last week, the digital library Internet Archive launched its ‘national emergency library’, expanding access to 1.4 million digitised works, to meet the “unprecedented global and immediate need for access to reading and research materials” during the COVID-19 pandemic.
13 March 2020   The Wikimedia Foundation and the global online library Internet Archive are seeking a declaration in a California court that their websites do not infringe several predictive text-related patents held by software developer WordLogic.
15 June 2020   The Internet Archive has ended its national emergency library earlier than planned, following a copyright infringement lawsuit filed by four publishers.