Updated Mar 20, 2023, 11:24am EDT
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Internet Archive heads to court to defend its digital library

The Long Room of the Old Library at Trinity College Dublin is shown in this image from 2015.
Wikimedia Commons/DAVID ILIFF

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The News

The Internet Archive, a San Francisco-based digital library that stores snapshots of webpages and digital scans of physical books, is headed to court Monday to defend itself against a copyright infringement lawsuit filed by four publishing houses.

The Archive, a nonprofit, allows users to borrow digital copies of books for free, but the publishers want it to pay for licensed e-books.

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Know More

The archival site temporarily suspended a cap on how many users could access a particular document at one time during the COVID-19 pandemic, a decision that triggered the 2020 suit by four of the largest names in publishing.

Hachette Book Group, John Wiley & Sons Inc., Penguin Random House, and HarperCollins allege that the archive’s materials have meant a loss of revenue and large-scale piracy.

But Internet Archive maintains that its operations are in line with fair use standards, and akin to what brick-and-mortar libraries offer. It says that owning a thing entitles them to lend it, raising new questions about the rights of digital libraries.

Internet Archive previously told courts that it purchased all of its materials legally. However, the publishing houses say that argument is a “blind denial that ignores established law.”

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Maria Pallante, chief executive of the Association of American Publishers, told The Wall Street Journal that if the archive’s practice “is normalized, there would be no point to the Copyright Act,” adding that “it would effectively render the rights of authors, including the right to market and monetize their works, meaningless.”

However, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an organization defending the Internet Archive, disagrees.

“The Internet Archive and the hundreds of libraries and archives that support [Controlled Digital Lending] are simply striving to serve their patrons effectively and efficiently, lending books one at a time, just as they have done for centuries. Copyright law does not prevent that lawful fair use.”

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  • In an opinion piece for Inside Higher Ed, a group of current and former university librarians argue that Internet Archive is a library, even though it exists virtually. “The Internet Archive is the most significant specialized library to emerge in decades,” the authors wrote. “It is, and continues to be, a modern-day cultural institution built intentionally in response to the technological revolution through which we’ve lived.”

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