The Internet Archive ended their “National Emergency Library” program on June 16, 2020, two weeks earlier than planned, following lawsuits by four publishers. The suit, filed in New York federal court, alleges “willful mass copyright infringement” and argues that, “despite the Open Library moniker, IA’s actions grossly exceed legitimate library services, do violence to the Copyright Act, and constitute willful digital piracy on an industrial scale.” The Association of American Publishers said, “The sheer scale of IA’s infringement described in the complaint – and its stated objective to enlarge its illegal trove with abandon – appear to make it one of the largest known book pirate sites in the world.”
The IA claims, “This lawsuit is not just about the temporary National Emergency Library. 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” and asserts that “controlled digital lending is a legal framework, developed by copyright experts.”
The IA launched their program in March, making nearly 1.5 million ebooks available for unrestricted borrowing. The IA is a private non-profit and has no legal right to give away these ebooks, most of which remain under copyright. The Association of American Publishers, the Authors Guild, and publishers immediately protested the mass copyright violation, and a lawsuit followed soon after.
Senator Thom Tillis (chair of the judiciary committee’s intellectual property subcommittee) weighed in as well, on the side of publishers: “I recognize the value in preserving culture and ensuring that it is accessible by future generations…. But I am concerned that the Internet Archive thinks that it – not Congress – gets to determine the scope of copyright law.”
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