In a brief filed in a New York district court on Tuesday night, the Internet Archive fired back in response to a lawsuit brought against it by five of the world’s largest publishers. The lawsuit seeks to shut down an online National Emergency Library started by the Internet Archive during the Covid-19 pandemic and levy millions of dollars in fines against the organization.
“The Internet Archive does what libraries have always done: buy, collect, preserve, and share our common culture,” the brief said. “Contrary to the publishers’ accusations, the Internet Archive and the hundreds of libraries and archives that support it are not pirates or thieves. They are librarians, striving to serve their patrons online just as they have done for centuries in the brick-and-mortar world.”
Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins, John Wiley & Sons, and Penguin Random House filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against the Internet Archive in June, claiming the site was a hub of piracy that had cost authors untold millions. Worried that the lawsuit could destroy the Internet Archive entirely, some have taken it upon themselves to archive the archive.
At the heart of the lawsuit is the Internet Archive’s National Emergency Library, an initiative it began in March as a response to Covid-19. The idea was to use a controlled lending system to make almost 1.4 million books temporarily available to anyone who wanted them until the end of June or the end of the pandemic, without a wait list. Controlled Digital Lending (CDL) is a new system of lending e-books as if they were printed that makes it so readers can't freely redistribute digital books they've borrowed.
The publisher’s lawsuit claims the emergency library infringed its copyrights and is seeking $150,000 per infringement for each of the 1.4 million copyrighted works.
“What is at stake with this lawsuit? Every digital learner’s access to library books. That is why the Internet Archive is standing up to defend the rights of hundreds of libraries that are using Controlled Digital Lending,” Internet Archive founder Brewster Kahle said in a blog.
“The publishers’ lawsuit does not stop at seeking to end the practice of Controlled Digital Lending. These publishers call for the destruction of the 1.5 million digital books that Internet Archive makes available to our patrons. This form of digital book burning is unprecedented and unfairly disadvantages people with print disabilities.”
Spokespeople for the Internet Archive directed Motherboard to its blog. “The plaintiffs and their counsel are currently reviewing IA’s response, but as the complaint sets forth, the Internet Archive uses its considerable resources to conduct and promote willful copyright infringement on a massive scale, having repeatedly ignored the objections of authors and publishers as to the blatant copying and public distribution of their literary works without permission,” Association of American Publishers spokesperson John McKay said in an emailed statement.
According to its brief, the Internet Archive is demanding a trial by jury.
Update: This article was updated with comment from the Association of American Publishers.