Publishers sue Internet Archive for lending e-books


Early in the pandemic, teachers and librarians pleaded with a major nonprofit to make it easier for children at home to access books in its digital library.

The organization, called the Internet Archive, agreed. While it traditionally lent its more than one million digital books to the public and through partnerships with libraries, it abandoned that limit in what it described as a “national emergency library”.

About two months later, major book publishers, including Harper Collins, sued the Internet Archive for copyright infringement – claiming that its digital library initiative “roughly exceedwhat libraries are allowed to do. A few months later, it reinstated the loan limits, court documents show.

The fight, which publishers and Internet Archive asked a federal court to end earlier this month, sparked a wider ideological debate about the application of copyright law when it comes to digital copies of books, pitting publishers and authors against librarians . At stake is the future of how libraries are allowed to buy and lend digital books to the public, which proponents say is central to a functioning democracy as technology takes over.

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Unlike physical books, which libraries often buy outright and loan to customers one at a time until they break down, the process for digital books is usually different. Libraries typically rent eBooks from publishers and can only loan them out a certain number of times – often a few dozen – until they have to renew the license. These licenses can cost four to five times more than buying the book, which sometimes strains library budgets.

Meanwhile, the Internet Archive and a few others have pursued what’s called controlled digital lending, in which they buy and digitize copies of books they own and virtually loan them out to customers one at a time, like physical books.

But the publishers say it violates copyright law.

Terry Hart, general counsel for the Association of American Publishers, said controlled digital lending is a “made-up doctrine” and that the Internet Archive uses it to “directly contradict” copyright law. author.

“Legitimate libraries don’t engage in this,” he said. “This illegal copying and distribution of other people’s stuff.”

Librarians and open internet activists say it isn’t, and shutting it down is a way for publishers to assert control and line their pockets.

“What libraries do is they buy, store and lend,” Brewster Kahle, the founder of the Internet Archive, said in an interview. “Publishers say you can’t buy, you can’t keep, and you can’t lend, except in the exact circumstances I’m telling you.”

The rise of technology and the pandemic have led to a surge in demand for e-books. Libraries have tried to keep up with the changing landscape and have turned to a number of e-book lending platforms, such as Overdrive and Libby. But this has been costly and a point of contention for librarians, many of whom believe digital book lending should work the same way as physical books, allowing them to purchase copies directly and lend them out.

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“Libraries routinely pay four to five times what consumers pay for the same eBooks, and then are forced to repurchase the same titles every year,” said Ellen Paul, executive director of the Connecticut Library Consortium, in a statement earlier this year in response to a state bill to bolster state library budgets so they can afford to keep up with the increase in digital books.

“[It’s] costing taxpayers thousands of dollars over the life of a single e-book and making a robust e-book collection beyond the reach of many libraries,” she said.

The lending of physical books takes place under the legal principle of the first-sale doctrine, which limits the rights of content creators to control how their works are resold, says Mehtab Khan, resident scholar at the Society Project. Information from Yale Law School. But this principle does not apply to e-books, mainly because case law has failed to understand how e-books have changed the library and publishing landscape, experts said.

The legal theory of controlled digital lending, however, was created by Michelle Wu in the early 2000s. Wu, a librarian at the University of Houston at the time, saw floods destroy much of her library’s collection, and she sought to create a way to digitize and preserve the rest of the books under her care.

Mary Rasenberger, chief executive of the Authors Guild, said the Internet Archive’s attempts to scan and download copies of books for free distribution using this theory are an attack on writers. “If you can just go and make your own copies [of books]you’re taking revenue away from authors,” she said.

“The libraries that raised me paid for their books,” said Sandra Cisneros, the acclaimed author of “The House on Mango Street,” in a statement in response to the court case. “They never stole them.”

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But Corynne McSherry, legal director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which represents the Internet Archive, said the libraries were simply trying to do what they had been doing for “thousands of years”, and weren’t breaking any laws. on copyright using controlled digital technologies. lend to make books available to as many people as possible. She added that this is simply an attempt by publishers to grow their e-book market and force libraries to pay for expensive licensing deals that help a publisher’s bottom line.

She said she was not surprised by the flashback.

“Publishers have historically always had a bit of anxiety around libraries and the kind of feeling that somehow libraries are invading [their] markets,” she said. “It’s a very natural thing, but in fact copyright law doesn’t work that way. In fact, you don’t get unlimited ability to control just because you own the copyright in a work. »

Library budgets are already tight, said Jennie Rose Halperin, executive director of Library Futures, and that would trigger tough decisions between spending money to renew the license of popular books or investing money in securing works that are not immediately popular, but important to preserve. .

Additionally, libraries could be subject to the whims of third parties, who may decide not to publish books on gay rights, abortion, or other sensitive political issues, if political pressure to ban them grows strong, a she declared. This could create a situation where “what the general public reads and has access to will be decided by a company, not the individual needs of the community”.

Khan, of Yale Law School, said the fight was crucial. As digital technologies develop, the rules governing how works created by authors, signers and filmmakers can be widely shared without infringing copyright laws need to be refined.

She added that it is beneficial for the United States to skew this balance in favor of giving people free access to the material as much as possible. “It’s a value we want to protect in a democratic society,” she says.

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