Authors Protest Publishers’ Law Suit Against the Internet Archive Library

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A large and growing group of authors and creative professionals including Neil Gaiman, Naomi Klein, Cory Doctorow, Alyssa Milano, Lily Wachowski, and Tom Morello have signed a letter protesting the publishing industry’s lawsuit against the Internet Archive Library. 

The Internet Archive is a digital library of internet sites and other cultural artifacts in digital form, including digital books and texts, audio recordings, videos, images and software.  The Internet Archive allows books to be borrowed through its Open Library service.   Users borrow books from Internet Archive under the Archive’s Controlled Digital Lending program, which allows users to check out books fort wo weeks or less, and only permits users to check out as many copies as the Archive physically owns.

In 2020, four publishing companies, Hachette Book Group, Inc., HarperCollins Publishers LLC, John Wiley & Sons, Inc. and Penguin Random House LLC, filed a lawsuit against the Internet Archive, claiming its Controlled Digital Lending program has infringed the publishers’ copyrights and has caused them to lose millions of dollars.  Internet Archive has countered that libraries have paid billions to the publishing industry for books, are investing tremendous resources in digitizing books, that Controlled Digital Lending is fundamentally the same as library lending and is helping ensure that readers can have access to books that libraries have bought and paid for, and is not harming the publishers.  In its response to the lawsuit, the Archive has warned that publishers “would like to force libraries and their patrons into a world in which books can only be accessed, never owned, and in which availability is subject to the rightsholders’ whim.”

Indeed, the authors who have signed on to the letter have characterized the lawsuit as one of several efforts by the publishing industry to attempt to prohibit libraries from lending e-books.  The letter states:  “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.” 

The letter goes onto state that “[w]e fear a future where libraries are reduced to a sort of Netflix or Spotify for books, from which publishers demand exorbitant licensing fees in perpetuity while unaccountable vendors force the spread of disinformation and hate for profit.”

Internet Archive filed a motion in July seeking dismissal of the claims on the grounds that its Controlled Digital Lending is a non-infringing fair use of the books at issue.  The court has not yet ruled on the motion.

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