Tuesday, March 31, 2020

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?


Update (2020-06-02): TorrentFreak:

Today, major publishers Hachette Book Group, Inc., HarperCollins Publishers LLC, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., and Penguin Random House LLC went to war with the project by filing a copyright infringement lawsuit against the Internet Archive and five ‘Doe’ defendants in a New York court.


Claiming that IA is hiding behind “an invented theory” simply labeled Controlled Digital Lending, the publishers maintain there is nothing in copyright law that allows anyone to systematically copy and distribute digital book files simply because they claim to own an original physical copy.

Furthermore, IA’s loosening of its own CDL rules at the time of the pandemic only made matters worse, as it came precisely when book market players were also under pressure to survive.

Update (2020-06-11): Brewster Kahle (via Hacker News):

Today we are announcing the National Emergency Library will close on June 16th, rather than June 30th, returning to traditional controlled digital lending. We have learned that the vast majority of people use digitized books on the Internet Archive for a very short time. Even with the closure of the NEL, we will be able to serve most patrons through controlled digital lending, in part because of the good work of the non-profit HathiTrust Digital Library. HathiTrust’s new Emergency Temporary Access Service features a short-term access model that we plan to follow.

We moved up our schedule because, last Monday, four commercial publishers chose to sue Internet Archive during a global pandemic.

1 Comment RSS · Twitter

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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