Internet Archive Controversy

The Internet Archive announced a controversial “National Emergency Library” initiative, making nearly 1.5 million ebooks available for unrestricted borrowing through at least June 30, 2020, “to make a real difference for the nation and the world” during the pandemic. The Internet Archive is a private non-profit and has no legal right to give away these ebooks, most of which remain under copyright.

Authors may email <> with “National Emergency Library Removal Request” in the subject line. The Internet Archive “recognize that authors and publishers are going to be impacted by this global pandemic as well. We encourage all readers who are in a position to buy books to do so, ideally while also supporting your local bookstore.” The Internet Archive began doing “controlled digital lending” in 2011, digitizing out-of-print (but still copyrighted) books found in libraries and making them available as ebooks, lending them on a one-copy-per-user basis. They argued that their approach was fair use, and though it was controversial, it didn’t raise a widespread outcry… but now they’re “lending” ebooks without restriction. Many of the titles made available aren’t out of print, but recent material widely available for sale.

Maria A. Pallante of the Association of American Publishers told Publisher’s Lunch,

We are stunned by the Internet Archive’s aggressive, unlawful, and opportunistic attack on the rights of authors and publishers in the midst of the novel coronavirus pandemic…. Publishers are working tirelessly to support the public with numerous, innovative, and socially-aware programs that address every side of the crisis: providing free global access to research and medical journals that pertain to the virus; offering complementary digital education materials to schools and parents; and expanding powerful storytelling platforms for readers of all ages. It is the height of hypocrisy that the Internet Archive is choosing this moment – when lives, livelihoods and the economy are all in jeopardy – to make a cynical play to undermine copyright, and all the scientific, creative and economic opportunity that it supports.

The Authors Guild also spoke out against the program:

IA has no rights whatsoever to these books, much less to give them away indiscriminately without consent of the publisher or author. We are shocked that the Internet Archive 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.

Authors Guild president Doug Preston adds,

IA’s Open Library is giving away books that are not theirs to give away. It’s as though they looted a bookstore and started handing away books to passersby. They are hurting authors and bookstores at a time when they can least bear it. Anyone in America already has access to free ebooks through local libraries. There are over 100,000 libraries in the country where the public can access free ebooks.

The Guild provided a template takedown notice to help authors get their work removed, available here: <>.

Jason Scott of Internet Archive encourages people to message him directly on Twitter (<>) to request removals, and actually spoke up against IA supporters attacking authors who complain about the program:

One particular theme in the attacks is ridiculing the work of the authors, the books, and I wanted to beg people to stop doing that…. These authors were made aware of this over the weekend, and have reached out because they care about their work, and we care about the work as well. I realize there’s strong debate and disagreement here but books are life-giving and life-changing and these writers made them. I appreciate and thank them for their works and the world is better for having these books in it.

US Senator Thom Tillis of NC (chair of the judiciary committee’s intellectual property subcommittee) entered that debate on the side of the authors in a letter IA founder Brewster Kahle:

I am not aware of any measure under copyright law that permits a user of copyrighted works to unilaterally create an emergency act…. Indeed, I am deeply concerned that your ‘Library’ is operating outside of the boundaries of the copyright law that Congress has enacted and alone has jurisdiction to amend…. I deeply value access to copyright works, but that access must be provided within the bounds of the law – even during a national emergency.

Most local libraries have ebook lending programs available for their patrons, loaning copies that authors were actually paid for.

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3 thoughts on “Internet Archive Controversy

  • June 6, 2020 at 3:50 am

    WOW! biased much.

    IA is used for thousand or querys of content that no longer exist, in case of the wayback machine, or link to “orphan works” wich copyright cannot longer be traced, it will also devastate places like wikipedia that rely heavily on it.

    Also if you have checked those “ebook lending programs ” you will see they are a joke, but hey lets keep helping the rich kids and of course US Senator Thom Tillis the man that heped the most to make student debt reach 1.5 trilliion $

  • September 15, 2020 at 3:06 pm

    IA is engaged in outright theft.

    Does the commenter above seriously think authors are “rich kids”?

    We’re working people and we’re being robbed by IA. Whatever valuable services they offer in other respects don’t change that one iota. Neither do their ostensible “motives” for theft.

    Let them stop robbing and enslaving writers — what else do you call it when they appropriate the fruits of our labors without compensation?

    I’ve used the form to get them to take all my work off their pirate website, but this is something authors shouldn’t have to do and which many cannot do.

    I know nothing about Senator Tillis, but I hope he skins IA alive and nails their hides to the barn door.

    • January 13, 2022 at 12:20 pm

      Stephen, I could understand your complaints if you were Stephen King, but people don’t even read your works for free… Unpopular writers are the most stingy for some reason.


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