Court rules that the book service of the online archive has violated copyright

NEW YORK (AP) — A federal judge has sided with four publishers who sued an online archive for unauthorized scanning of millions of copyrighted works and offering them to the public for free. Judge John G. Koeltl of the US District Court in Manhattan ruled that the Internet Archive produced “derivative” works that required permission from the copyright holder.

The Archive did not transform the books in question into something new, but simply scanned and loaned them as ebooks from their website.

“A rearrangement of an ebook from a print book is a paradigmatic example of a derivative work,” Koeltl wrote.

The Archive, which announced it would appeal Friday’s decision, has said its actions are protected by fair use laws and that it has long had a broader mission to make information widely available, a common factor in lawsuits involving to online copyright.

“Libraries are more than the customer service departments for corporate database products,” Internet Archive founder Brewster Kahle wrote in a blog post Friday. “For democracy to thrive on a global scale, libraries must be able to maintain their historic role in society: owning, preserving and lending books. This ruling is a blow to libraries, readers and authors and we intend to appeal.”

In June 2020, Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins Publishers, John Wiley & Sons, and Penguin Random House sued over the Archives’ National Emergency Library, a wide-ranging expansion of their ebook lending service that began in the early weeks of the pandemic , when many physical libraries and bookstores were closed. The publishers sought action against the emergency library and the archive’s older and more limited program, controlled digital lending (CDL). Works by Toni Morrison, JD Salinger, and Terry Pratchett were among the copyrighted texts publishers cited as made available.

While the Authors Guild was among those opposed to the emergency library, some writers praised it. Historian Jill Lepore, in an essay published in March 2020 in The New Yorker, encouraged readers who couldn’t afford to buy books or otherwise couldn’t find them during the pandemic to “please: sign up, log in and borrow!” from the internet archive.

In a statement Friday, the head of the trade group, the Association of American Publishers, praised the court’s ruling as an “unambiguous affirmation of the Copyright Act and respect for established precedent.

“By rejecting the defendant’s complex arguments, the Court has underlined the importance of authors, publishers and legal markets in a global society and economy. Copying and distributing what is not yours is not innovative – or even difficult – but it is wrong,” said Maria Pallante, president and CEO of the association.

Founded in 1996, The Internet Archive is a non-profit organization “created to build an Internet library, with the purpose of providing researchers, historians, and scholars with permanent access to historical collections that exist in digital format.” Unlike traditional libraries, it does not acquire books directly through licensing agreements with publishers, but through purchases and donations. The archive also contains millions of movies, TV shows, videos, audio recordings, and other materials.


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