Thursday, August 17, 2023

Book Publishers v. Internet Archive

David Streitfeld:

He unveiled the National Emergency Library, a vast trove of digital books mostly unavailable elsewhere, and made access to it a breeze. […] On Friday, the publishers said through their trade association that they had negotiated a deal with the archive that would remove all their copyright books from the site.


The archive had a muted response, saying that it expected there would be changes to its lending program but that their full scope was unknown. There is also an undisclosed financial payment if the archive loses on appeal.


Six thousand writers signed a petition supporting the lawsuit, and a thousand names are on a petition denouncing it. The Romance Writers of America and the Western Writers of America joined a brief in favor of the publishers, while Authors Alliance, a group of 2,300 academics whose mission is to serve the public good by widely sharing their creations, submitted a brief for the archive.

Via Glenn Fleishman:

I am an absolute fan of the Internet Archive and all the work they’ve done to preserve cultural and technical history. But as this article makes clear, they are fighting a legal battle they cannot win, because the law is clear. They need to be fighting a structural battle, all about the law, because they will not win these cases. A judge would have to come up with novel interpretations that would surely be overturned at appellate or Supreme Court level.

They are conflating multiple different battles about copyright, some of which affect current authors, making a living from their work, and some of which relate to orphansed works or works that should be out of copyright but due to vagaries, their status is unknown. If they focused, I believe there would be a much happier outcome. Their legal arguments are highly unconvincing to me. But their moral arguments have real standing. There’s also a lot of nonsense in copyright law about older works.

Dan Moren:

As an author, I think there’s yet a third level to this discussion. At the end of the day, the writers are usually the ones who get squeezed.

Most authors don’t make a living from their work, but I think the vast majority of them (if not all) support libraries and the free access to information. Most of us have used libraries a lot during our lives, some have even depended on them. I don’t think most writers view people borrowing their books from the libraries as lost sales—we view them as possible lifelong fans of our future work.

The solution, perhaps, is to find other ways to recompense authors for their work being borrowed. Right now, ebooks are usually sold to libraries under licensing procedures that regulate how many times a title can be loaned out before a new license has to be purchased. It’s an uncomfortable compromise, but the power remains in the hands of the publisher (as it usually does).


Update (2024-04-30): Bryan Lunduke (via Hacker News):

On April 19th, The Internet Archive filed the final brief in their appeal of the “Hachette v. Internet Archive“ lawsuit (for which, judgment was handed down, against Internet Archive, last year).

What is curious, is that this final brief fails -- almost completely -- to reasonably address the core issues of the lawsuit. What’s more, the public statements that followed, by The Internet Archive, appeared to be crafted to drum up public sympathy by misrepresenting the core of the case itself.

Which suggests that The Internet Archive is very much aware that they are likely to lose this appeal.

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Old Unix Geek

In the UK authors used to get a (usually tiny) cheque from the library system for all the people who borrowed their book. I'm not sure if it's still the case today. I believe the tiny amounts came from the days a pound sterling was silver, and therefore even a penny was a significant amount of money.

If one wants books that are not twisted by moneyed interests, knowledgeable people have to be paid to write them. Not all knowledgeable people are photogenic and have social media brands (or whatever) so Patreon won't cut it. Few people can afford to donate the fruit of their efforts, when good books take years to research and write.

Whether or not anyone needs publishers is another matter (you're lucky these days to get a buck or two from the sale of a $40 book)...

I have to say, there is a certain irony: print books can be resold, lent, without trouble, and are less likely to be pirated (scanning is tedious work). Legitimate libraries can't do either of these things with e-books. Yet OpenAI allegedly trained ChatGPT on LibGen which consists of pirated e-books, thereby violating authors' copyrights twice (first pirating the book, and then lifting material from it).

(And yes, by pirating, I mean violating copyright law, which exists to encourage people to write books, not sinking Spanish Galleons after lightening them from their ill begotten gold and silver...).

Ultimately I think it's pretty clear things are going to change: either there's a much more direct market in interoperable book purchasing and lending from authors and their agents and lending libraries or the entire production process will be billed by the hour. Yes information wants to be free, and it's right that there's pressure to make it so, but creators absolutely need compensating and there's got to be more done to get more of that value to the authors. And yes, I think publishers (and "rightsholders", more generally) are a big part of the problem, as are the political toadies who accede to their lobbying. There has to be a balance; copyright only works when we benefit as a society. Right now, that balance simply isn't there.

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