Internet Archive has violated publishers’ copyrights by lending ebooks, court rules

A federal judge has ruled against Internet Archive in its high-profile case against a group of four US publishers led by the Hachette Book Group. Per Judge John G. Koeltl declared Friday that the nonprofit had infringed on the group’s copyrights by lending out digitally scanned copies of their books.

The lawsuit stemmed from the Internet Archive’s decision to launch the “National Emergency Library” during the early days of the pandemic. During the program, the organization offered more than 1.4 million free ebooks, including copyrighted works, in response to libraries around the world closing their doors due to coronavirus lockdown measures.

Prior to March 2020, the Internet Archive’s Open Library program operated under a so-called “controlled digital lending system”, which meant that there was often a waiting list to borrow a book from the collection. When the pandemic hit, the Internet Archive lifted those restrictions to make it easier for people to access reading materials while stuck at home. It was quick to make the effort. And in June 2020, Hachette, as well as HarperCollins, Penguin Random House, and John Wiley & Sons, accused the organization of enabling “intentional mass copyright infringement.” That same month, the Internet Archive appeared.

At the start of this week’s lawsuit, the Internet Archive argued that the initiative was protected by the principle of fair use, which allows the unlicensed use of copyrighted works under certain circumstances. If , HathiTrust, an offshoot of the Google Books Search project, successfully used a similar argument to The Authors Guild in 2014. However, Judge Koeltl rejected the Internet Archive’s position, stating that “there is nothing transformative” about lending unauthorized copies of books. “Although [the Internet Archive] has the right to lend printed books it has obtained legally, it does not have the right to scan those books and lend the digital copies en masse,” he wrote. Maria Pallante, the president and CEO of the Association of American Publishers, said the ruling “underlined the importance of authors, publishers and creative markets in a global society.”

On Saturday, the Internet Archive said it would appeal the decision. “Libraries are more than the customer service departments for corporate database products. For democracy to thrive on a global scale, libraries must be able to preserve their historic role in society: owning, preserving and lending books,” the nonprofit wrote in a . “This ruling is a blow to libraries, readers and authors and we intend to appeal.”


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