Big US Publishers Sues Internet Archive Over COVID-19 Lending Program

The Internet Archive, which offers to lend books to users, is now being sued for copyright infringement by the big US publishers.

When the COVID-19 national emergency began gripping the US, many acts of generosity started cropping up. These acts of kindness to help each other get through the pandemic showed the best in humanity. For our part, we’ve been putting together an archive of music information throughout the year, in part, as an effort to help people cope with the uncertainty (predominantly, the archive helps users find uplifting music for the time being). Others have donated money to various relief programs while governments have been rolling out COVID-19 relief programs. In short, many people are pitching in however they can.

The Internet Archive, for its part, rolled out the National Emergency Library. This program lends books out to people. When the pandemic took hold, some restrictions were lifted because educational institutes and schools were shut down due to COVID-19. The goal, of course, is to supplement peoples education in the absence of regular schooling. The initiative received broad praise as a great response to the pandemic.

Unfortunately, large corporate interests sometimes don’t see the situation for what it is.

In March, the Copyright Alliance called the initiative “vile“. The Authors Alliance, for their part, called the initiative “appalling”. Generally speaking, they are slamming the initiative because they want to rake in even more money during this time of crisis. Of course, most viewed the response as tone-deaf, but that is nothing new when it comes to large corporate organizations like that.

After the dust settled somewhat, it seems that the big US publishers are now filing a lawsuit against the Internet Archive for copyright infringement and for having the audacity to respond to the global pandemic by offering educational relief to people. From Yahoo! News:

NEW YORK — Four of the country’s biggest publishers have sued a digital library for copyright infringement, alleging that the Internet Archive has illegally offered more than a million scanned works to the public, including such favourites as Toni Morrison’s “Song of Solomon,” Malcolm Gladwell’s “Blink” and Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road.”

“Without any license or any payment to authors or publishers, Internet Archive scans print books, uploads these illegally scanned books to its servers, and distributes verbatim digital copies of the books in whole via public-facing websites ,” according to papers filed Monday in federal court Monday in New York. “With just a few clicks, any Internet-connected user can download complete digital copies of in-copyright books.”

In March, the Internet Archive announced it had established a “National Emergency Library” in response to the coronavirus outbreak that had shut down most of the country’s schools and libraries. According to the Archive, the emergency library would support “remote teaching, research activities, independent scholarship, and intellectual stimulation” with free digital materials.

“We hope that authors will support our effort to ensure temporary access to their work in this time of crisis,” according to a statement on the archive’s website , The emergency library is scheduled to last at least through the end of June. The archive also provides free access to more than 1 million older, public domain books that are not bound by copyright law.

The plaintiffs, who include Penguin Random House, Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins and Wiley, are seeking a permanent injunction against the library and an undetermined amount of money for damages. Court papers refer to page views on the archive site, more than 50,000 alone in New York state, but not to how many books were actually borrowed.

“There is nothing in the copyright law which authorizes the mass copying of and distribution of 1.3 million scanned books to the public, regardless of whether those copies are downloaded by one person or millions,” Maria Pallante, president and CEO of the trade group the Association of American Publishers, said in an interview.

What is clear for us is that this is a battle between making massive profits vs. general empathy. It was extremely difficult to side with the big publisher corporations before when they were launching verbal attacks, but it is now even more difficult to side with them now that they have launched legal action. It makes it sound like all publishers care about is money. COVID-19, national pandemics, massive lockdowns, or, well, anything that is happening in society today doesn’t seem to mean hardly anything to these large corporations. All that seems to matter to them is money and making as much as humanly possible at all costs. That is, at least, the perception that has been built throughout all of this.

Honestly, we can only shake our heads over this one. Honestly, how exactly is this lawsuit even necessary at this point?

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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