A federal judge has ruled against the Internet Archive, a nonprofit organization, in a case brought by a group of US publishers led by Hachette Book Group. The judge declared that the organization had infringed on the publishers’ copyrights by lending out digitally scanned copies of their books. The lawsuit originated from the Internet Archive’s decision to launch the “National Emergency Library” during the early days of the pandemic. The program saw the organization offer more than 1.4 million free ebooks, including copyrighted works, in response to libraries worldwide closing their doors due to coronavirus lockdown measures.
Before the pandemic, the Internet Archive’s Open Library program operated under a “controlled digital lending” system, meaning there was often a waitlist to borrow a book from its collection. When the pandemic hit, the Internet Archive lifted those restrictions to make it easier for people to access reading material while stuck at home. The Copyright Alliance was quick to take issue with the effort, and in June 2020, Hachette, HarperCollins, Penguin Random House, and John Wiley & Sons sued the Internet Archive, accusing the organization of enabling “willful mass copyright infringement.” That same month, the Internet Archive shuttered the National Emergency Program early.
During the trial, the Internet Archive argued that the initiative was protected by the principle of Fair Use, which allows the unlicensed use of copyrighted works under some circumstances. However, Judge John G. Koeltl rejected the Internet Archive’s argument, declaring “there is nothing transformative” about lending unauthorized copies of books. He wrote, “Although [the Internet Archive] has the right to lend print books it lawfully acquired, it does not have the right to scan those books and lend the digital copies en masse.” The ruling has been seen as a win for authors, publishers, and creative markets.
The Internet Archive has stated that it plans to appeal the decision. The organization has emphasized the importance of libraries in society and their ability to own, preserve, and lend books. They believe that this ruling is a blow to libraries, readers, and authors alike.