When libraries around the US began closing their doors due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Internet Archive (IA) responded by creating a “National Emergency Library,” a collection of 1.4 million books from its free e-book repository Open Library. Publishers immediately took issue with their titles being shared for free (without payment to authors or publishers). Today, four major publishers filed a lawsuit against the IA alleging “willful mass copyright infringement.”
“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,” Hachette Book Group, Inc., HarperCollins Publishers LLC, John Wiley & Sons, Inc. and Penguin Random House LLC wrote in the lawsuit filed in a New York court.
The plaintiffs argue that the IA has no legal rights to distribute the books, which it scans and uploads to its servers, via Open Library or the National Emergency Library. The plaintiffs go as far as charging the Archive with piracy. The lawsuit seeks a declaration that the IA is committing copyright infringement, injunctions to stop the IA from sharing copyrighted work and statutory damages, which could be as much as $150,000 per infringement, TorrentFreak explains.
“As a library, the Internet Archive acquires books and lends them, as libraries have always done. This supports publishing and authors and readers. Publishers suing libraries for lending books, in this case, protected digitized versions, and while schools and libraries are closed, is not in anyone's interest. We hope this can be resolved quickly,” IA founder Brewster Kahle said in a statement provided to Engadget.
A nonprofit, the IA clearly isn’t meant for piracy. In addition to creating the Open Library, it has attempted to archive everything Trump says on video in order to help fact checkers, fixed nine million broken Wikipedia links, saved Google+ posts and started a historical web collection to power services like the Wayback Machine. There’s no guarantee that this lawsuit will succeed, but if the IA is slapped with statutory damages it could be a fatal blow to the organization.
Update 06/01/2020 5:10PM ET: This story was updated to include a statement from Internet Archive.