Tuesday, March 31, 2020 [Tweets] [Favorites]

The Internet Archive’s National Emergency Library

The Internet Archive (Hacker News):

On March 17, the American Library Association Executive Board took the extraordinary step to recommend that the nation’s libraries close in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. In doing so, for the first time in history, the entirety of the nation’s print collection housed in libraries is now unavailable, locked away indefinitely behind closed doors.

And so, to meet this unprecedented need at a scale never before seen, we suspended waitlists on our lending collection. As we anticipated, critics including the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers have released statements (here and here) condemning the National Emergency Library and the Internet Archive. Both statements contain falsehoods that are being spread widely online. To counter the misinformation, we are addressing the most egregious points here and have also updated our FAQs.

I don’t see anything about the legal basis for suspending waitlists, i.e. allowing unlimited simultaneous checkouts. I suspect there is none.

On the one hand, with libraries closed, there are lots of library copies that should be in circulation but aren’t. Internet Archive is solving a real problem. On the other hand, what’s the principle here? Can any site claim to be acting on behalf of libraries, distribute whatever content they want, and force the copyright holders to opt out rather than opt in?


1 Comment

I do not think any site could make the claim but I think Archive.org is acting as an actual library and it certainly seems feasible to have some mechanism to allow downloading of materials given many libraries only have a paucity of digital content and are currently physically shuttered. In fact, many of the books I find on Archive.org are no longer in the local library system at all and some are not even sold by the publisher themselves at this point.

Legality is an interesting question, but users of Archive.org are clearly much less concerned by the letter of copyright law as it is.

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