‘A Blow for Libraries’: Internet Archive Loses Copyright Infringement Lawsuit

Internet Archive lost lawsuit against top book publishers
Internet Archive lost lawsuit against top book publishers

A judge ruled against Internet Archive, a free online digital library, on Friday in a lawsuit filed by four top publishers who claimed the company was in violation of copyright laws. The publishers, Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins, John Wiley & Sons, and Penguin Random House filed the lawsuit against Internet Archive in 2020, claiming the company had illegally scanned and uploaded 127 of their books for readers to download for free, detracting from their sales and the authors’ royalties.

U.S. District Court Judge John G. Koeltl ruled in favor of the publishing houses in saying that Internet Archive was making “derivative” works by transforming printed books into e-books and distributing them. The digital library’s model also went against standard public libraries which can only lend out the number of books in its collection. Internet Archive was reportedly lending out more digital copies than it was allowed to, although Internet Archive argued that it had every right to lend books under the doctrine of fair use which says “purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright.”

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The Authors Guild said in a Twitter post that it supports Koeltl’s decision and said contrary to Internet Archive’s claims, “scanning & lending books w/out permission or compensation is NOT fair use—it is theft & it devalues authors’ works.”

Koeltl’s decision was in part based on the law that libraries are required to pay publishers for continued use of their digital book copies and are only permitted to lend these digital copies a specified number of times, called controlled digital lending, as agreed by the publisher before paying to renew its license.

However, according to the court ruling, Hachette and Penguin provide one or two-year terms to libraries, in which the eBook can be rented an unlimited number of times before the library has to purchase a new license. HarperCollins allows the library to circulate a digital copy 26 times before the license has to be renewed, while Wiley has continued to experiment with several subscription models.

The judge ruled that because Internet Archive was purchasing the book only once before scanning it and lending each digital copy an unlimited number of times, it is an infringement of copyright and “concerns the way libraries lend eBooks.”

Maria A. Pallante, President and CEO of the Association of American Publishers, said in a statement, “In rejecting arguments that would have pushed fair use to illogical markers, the Court has underscored the importance of authors, publishers, and creative markets in a global society.” She added, “We hope the opinion will prove educational to the defendant and anyone else who finds public laws inconvenient to their own interests.”

Internet Archive founder Brewster Kahle, called the ruling “a blow for libraries, readers, and authors,” in an online statement, and said the company plans to appeal the judge’s decision.

Brewster said in an emailed statement to Gizmodo that Internet Archive is “disappointed by the verdict,” adding, “... We believe it is a misstep in the path to make sure libraries can loan books that we own, now in our digital age. That publishers do not sell e-books, but have temporary licenses, makes this case even more important. But the long-term issue is that libraries need to continue their normal practice of buying, preserving, and lending books.”

Updated: 2:58 p.m. to include comment from Brewster Kahle.

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