June 4, 2020

Publishers sue “Internet Archive”; authors & editors irate


On Monday, a group of publishers sued the nonprofit Internet Archive, claiming that the group’s distribution of free e-books violated the terms of copyright and amounted to digital piracy.

According to the New York Times, the lawsuit accused the Internet Archive of “willful mass copyright infringment,” and was filed on behalf of Penguin Random House, Hachette, and HarperCollins (where, one wonders, were Simon and Schuster and Macmillan?)

As we wrote in this space back in April, the Internet Archive’s purported logic of the distribution falling under the “fair use” clause of copyright seems deeply suspicious. Turning, as one does, to the Chicago Manual of Style supports our instinct. The august handbook says that Factor Number Three of potential fair use involves the “amount … of the portion used in relation to the work as a whole,” which presumably excludes, you know, ALL as an acceptable portion.

Factor Number Four, meanwhile, takes into consideration “the effect of the use on the potential market for, or value of, the copyrighted work.” No brainer—having a pirated version available for free definitely affects the “value of the copyrighted work.” Chicago is not a legal document, of course, but its guidelines leave no room for debate about the non-applicability of fair use to the Internet Archive’s policy.

Well, but it’s a library, right? Aren’t libraries good things? Unequivocally so; but you’d be surprised to find out how many people seem not to understand that libraries buy books—yes, even e-books. When you borrow an e-book from the New York Public Library, for example, a small portion of the money the library paid for that book is making its way back to the author. Not so the case with the Internet Archive, which distributes scanned copies of books that have been “donated.” Like, donated from the back of a truck, maybe.

“There is nothing innovative or transformative about making complete copies of books to which you have no rights and giving them away for free,” Maria A. Pallante, president of the Association of American Publishers, told the Times. To that, we heartily assent.

Wash your hands, please …



Michael Lindgren is the Managing Editor at Melville House.