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Internet Archive’s Book Service Violates Copyright and Judge’s Rules

NEW YORK (AP) — A federal judge has sided with four publishers who sued an online archive for its unauthorized digitization of millions of copyrighted works and offering them free to the public. Judge John G. Koeltl of the U.S. District Court in Manhattan ruled that the Internet Archive produced “derivative” works that required permission from the copyright holder.

The Archive did not turn the books in question into something new, but simply scanned them and loaned them out as e-books from its website.

“A redesign of an e-book from a print book is a paradigmatic example of a derivative work,” Koeltl wrote.

The Archive, which announced it would appeal Friday’s ruling, said its actions were protected by fair use laws and has long had a broader mission to make information widely available, a factor common in legal cases involving online copyright.

“Libraries are more than customer service departments for enterprise database products,” Internet Archive founder Brewster Kahle wrote in a blog post Friday. “For democracy to thrive globally, libraries must be able to maintain their historic role in society – owning, preserving and lending books. This decision is a blow to libraries, readers and authors and we plan to appeal.

In June 2020, Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins Publishers, John Wiley & Sons and Penguin Random House filed a lawsuit in response to the National Emergency Library of Archives, a wide expansion of its e-book lending service begun in the first weeks of the pandemic, when many physical libraries and bookstores had closed. Publishers have called for action against the Emergency Library and the Archives’ older, more limited program, Controlled Digital Lending (CDL). The works of Toni Morrison, JD Salinger and Terry Pratchett were among the publishers of copyrighted texts cited as being made available.

While the Authors Guild was among those opposing the Emergency Library, some writers praised it. Historian Jill Lepore, in a March 2020 essay in The New Yorker, encouraged readers who couldn’t afford to buy books or couldn’t find them during the pandemic to “get please: register, log in and borrow! from the Internet Archive.

In a statement Friday, the head of the Association of American Publishers trade group hailed the court’s decision as an “unequivocal affirmation of copyright law and adherence to established precedent.”

“In rejecting the Respondent’s convoluted arguments, the Court underscored the importance of legitimate authors, publishers and markets in a global society and economy. Copying and distributing what isn’t yours isn’t innovative—or even difficult—but it’s wrong,” said Maria Pallante, the association’s president and CEO.

The Internet Archive, founded in 1996, is a nonprofit organization “founded to build an Internet library, with the goal of providing permanent access for researchers, historians, and scholars to historical collections that exist in digital format.” Unlike traditional libraries, it does not acquire books directly through licensing agreements with publishers, but through purchases and donations. The archive also includes millions of movies, TV shows, videos, audio recordings and other documents.


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