Copyright Alliance Calls the COVID-19 Emergency Library Initiative “Vile”

The National Emergency Library was created in response to COVID-19 to help continue learning. Naturally, the Copyright Alliance has a problem with that.

COVID-19 has seen the shutdown of large portions of the global economy. Stay-at-home orders and national lockdowns have prevented, among other things, intellectual development as students everywhere are forced to, at best, receive learning materials through video conferencing or simply not at all.

Of course, this bad situation also brings out some of the better aspects of human nature. People are offering lower deals, holding off on payments, or offering free services to help people through this difficult time. One such organization is the Internet Archive. Recently, they have unrolled the National Emergency Library. From the announcement:

To address our unprecedented global and immediate need for access to reading and research materials, as of today, March 24, 2020, the Internet Archive will suspend waitlists for the 1.4 million (and growing) books in our lending library by creating a National Emergency Library to serve the nation’s displaced learners. This suspension will run through June 30, 2020, or the end of the US national emergency, whichever is later.

During the waitlist suspension, users will be able to borrow books from the National Emergency Library without joining a waitlist, ensuring that students will have access to assigned readings and library materials that the Internet Archive has digitized for the remainder of the US academic calendar, and that people who cannot physically access their local libraries because of closure or self-quarantine can continue to read and thrive during this time of crisis, keeping themselves and others safe.

This library brings together all the books from Phillips Academy Andover and Marygrove College, and much of Trent University’s collections, along with over a million other books donated from other libraries to readers worldwide that are locked out of their libraries.

This is a response to the scores of inquiries from educators about the capacity of our lending system and the scale needed to meet classroom demands because of the closures. Working with librarians in Boston area, led by Tom Blake of Boston Public Library, who gathered course reserves and reading lists from college and school libraries, we determined which of those books the Internet Archive had already digitized. Through that work we quickly realized that our lending library wasn’t going to scale to meet the needs of a global community of displaced learners. To make a real difference for the nation and the world, we would have to take a bigger step.

“The library system, because of our national emergency, is coming to aid those that are forced to learn at home, ” said Brewster Kahle, Digital Librarian of the Internet Archive. “This was our dream for the original Internet coming to life: the Library at everyone’s fingertips.”

It’s a very respectable initiative. Not everyone has access to necessary resources at the best of times to continue learning. During a time of an international emergency, such efforts may be even more difficult, if not, impossible. Obviously, this is for the duration of this epidemic, so this is a temporary solution to solve a growing need.

So, it may be a surprise to some that someone would have a problem with this. Enter the Authors Alliance. They called the initiative “appalling”. The Copyright Alliance, meanwhile, calls the initiative “vile”. From ZDNet:

The Authors Guild fired the first salvo, blasting the library as “appalling.” The organization of professional writers said it was “shocked” at the scheme, as the Internet Archive has “no rights whatsoever to these books, much less to give them away indiscriminately without consent of the publisher or author.”

The Authors Guild said that COVID-19 has been used “as an excuse to push copyright law further out to the edges” which, in turn, is causing authors that are already struggling to pay the bills additional harm.

More criticism has come in the form of comments made by the Copyright Alliance, an organization that represents the rights of those in creative industries including authors and artists. CEO Keith Kupferschmid noted that creators are among the hardest hit at present, and while projects have been set up to help those in these industries, the executive said IA’s project is making “things much worse for those that need our help.”

Kupferschmid says that rather than fund assistance projects — in the same way as Tim Cook and Mark Zuckerberg, for example — the millionaire founder of IA, Brewster Kahle, has instead taken “money out of the pockets of those who need it the most — American authors.”

Kupferschmid called this alleged action “particularly vile.”

As difficult as it might sound for some of these organizations, there are some things that are more important than making massive profits and exploiting every possible opportunity to make a fast buck. The suggestion that they are simply giving away books is, of course, bunk because these books are actually borrowed instead of permanently downloaded. Additionally, the Internet Archive doesn’t make a profit off of this in the first place. Also, this is a temporary initiative, not a permanent one. Unfortunately, these organizations seem to only see an opportunity to make massive profits slip away because of some stupid virus that has, so far, cost the lives of mere thousands across the globe. As a result, it’s hard to have any sympathy for these organizations given the line that they took in the first place.

Really, there were plenty of lines they could have taken to manage the situation such as contacting the service and asking about the initiative. They could have also drawn lines on where they stand with things and negotiated, on an emergency basis, how to carry forward in these times. Instead, they simply publicly assailed the initiative. Those actions really only serves to make their organizations look incredibly greedy. For us, they have no right to ask why so many people hate them. It’s actions like this that causes damage to their reputation more than anything else.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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