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Internet Archive’s National Emergency Library to close early amid lawsuit

The goal was to promote learning in quarantine, but the lawsuit alleges copyright infringement.
Ann Smajstrla
June 11, 2020
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Richard Newstead via Getty Images

Internet Archive has announced the Temporary National Emergency Library will be closing two weeks early, citing a recent lawsuit brought on by four publishers. The Internet Archive (IA) created the library, a collection of 1.4 million free ebooks, in March in response to libraries around the world closing their doors amid coronavirus concerns. Four major publishers filed a lawsuit against the IA on June 1st alleging “willful mass copyright infringement.”

The library was originally going to be live through June 30th, but will now close June 16th. The books in the library were scanned and made available to patrons for two weeks, free of charge, The New York Times reported. After June 16th, however, the library will return to “controlled digital lending” -- a digital method of traditional library lending in which a library pays licensing fees to publishers, and allows only one reader per ebook at a time. 

The lawsuit, filed in a New York court by publishers Hachette Book Group, Inc., HarperCollins Publishers LLC, John Wiley & Sons, Inc. and Penguin Random House LLC, alleges IA has no legal rights to distribute the books. It 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.

In a blog post, the IA called the lawsuit a “costly assault” and defended the project. “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,” the post explains. IA said the library isn’t meant for piracy, but is intended for “emergency remote teaching, research activities, independent scholarship, and intellectual stimulation during the closures.”

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