July 31, 2020

Internet Archive vs. Publishers feud intensifies; court ruling will settle kerfuffle


The fate of the Internet Archive will be determined in a courtroom, such as the one depicted here.

The battle between the nonprofit Internet Archive and the publishing industry, which has accused the former of digital piracy, took a definitive turn when the publishers filed a copyright infringement lawsuit in June. In a statement released on July 28, the Internet Archive responded by denying the legitimacy of the publishers’ case.

According to Publishers Weekly, the counter-statement claims that

Contrary to the publishers’ accusations, the Internet Archive, and the hundreds of libraries and archives that support it, are not pirates or thieves. They are librarians, striving to serve their patrons online just as they have done for centuries in the brick-and-mortar world. Copyright law does not stand in the way of libraries’ right to lend, and patrons’ right to borrow, the books that libraries own.

The filers of the lawsuit, a group that includes Melville House distribution partner Penguin Random House and is organized by the Association of American Publishers, rejected an offer to negotiate out of court, stating that the “infringements” in question “are now appropriately before the court.”

Here at Melville House we have been following this closely, offering up a string of impertinent opinions that, not surprisingly, are strongly critical of the Internet Archive. We are not lawyers, thank God, but to us it seems that the Archive’s repeated claims that their lending is covered by fair use seem egregious.

In addition, the Archive says that it has removed, at copyright holders’ request, some 127 books from circulation. Excuse us, but what kind of operation traffics in intellectual property whose control can be enforced only by individual request? Kinda like, “we’re gonna steal all this stuff, but if you ask us not to on an item-by-item basis, we’ll give it back”? I mean, hello? Has the whole world gone crazy?

When pressed, Internet Archive founder Brewster Kahle admitted, in April, that the IA “did not do enough to engage with the broader information ecosystem, like authors, publishers, and policymakers.” As bona fide members of said ecosystem, we will be watching these developments very closely indeed.



Michael Lindgren is the Managing Editor at Melville House.