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US Publishers Sue The Internet Archive

In March, the Internet Archive, a non-profit group, announced that it was creating a “National Emergency Library,” temporarily suspending waiting lists to borrow e-books during the pandemic. At the time, many writers and publishers were outraged. This isn’t the first conflict between IA and critics who accuse it of piracy. IA describes itself as a library, which temporarily lends free digital copies of millions of books obtained through donations, purchases or collaborations with brick-and-mortar libraries. The group has used a waiting list to ensure that just one copy of a given work is in use at a time, but professional groups representing writers and publishers have repeatedly accused IA of “infringement.”

Now, four major American publishers – John Wiley & Sons, Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins and Penguin Random House – have taken their grievances to federal court. They accuse the Internet Archive (IA) of  “wilful mass copyright infringement.” They want the court to block IA’s operations and to recover damages for scores of allegedly infringed works. In a statement, the publishers said that IA’s “goal of creating digital copies of books and providing them to whomever wants to download them reflects a profound misunderstanding of the costs of creating books, a profound lack of respect for the many contributors involved in the publication process, and a profound disregard of the boundaries and balance of core copyright principles.” The Authors Guild is supporting the publishers’ lawsuit. Douglas Preston, president of the Authors Guild, stated, “The Internet Archive hopes to fool the public by calling its piracy website a ‘library’; but there’s a more accurate term for taking what you don’t own: ‘stealing’. ” In response, Brewster Kahle of the Internet Archive has stated, “As a library, the Internet Archive acquires books and lends them, as libraries have always done. This supports publishing, authors and readers. Publishers suing libraries for lending books, in this case protected digitized versions, and while schools and libraries are closed, is not in anyone’s interest.”