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UPDATE: The Internet Archive has announced that it will be closing the National Emergency Library two weeks early on June 16 rather than June 30. The reason is the lawsuit detailed in the original story below, which the Archive points out, “is not just about the temporary National Emergency Library. The complaint attacks the concept of any library owning and lending digital books, challenging the very idea of what a library is in the digital world.”

It’s hoped that with the closure now happening next week, “the publishers call off their costly assault.”

Original Story 6/2:

Back in March, the Internet Archive lifted restrictions on the 1.4 million books in its lending library in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Now, four book publishers are suing the nonprofit organization claiming piracy.

The National Emergency Library was created by the Internet Archive to temporarily offer a way of serving “the nation’s displaced learners.” Typically, the Archive uses a waitlist system and allows one borrower at a time to gain access to a scanned book for a period of 14 days. Those restrictions were lifted in March and the Archive intends to keep it that way until at least June 30.

As The New York Times reports, the four book publishers Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins Publishers, John Wiley & Sons, and Penguin Random House have filed a lawsuit against the Internet Archive arguing this counts as piracy, or more specifically, “willful mass copyright infringement.”

Maria A. Pallante, president of the Association of American Publishers, explains the publisher’s position, “There is nothing innovative or transformative about making complete copies of books to which you have no rights and giving them away for free … They’ve stepped in downstream and taken the intellectual investment of authors and the financial investment of publishers, they’re interfering and giving this away.”

Brewster Kahle, founder of the Internet Archive, responded to news of the lawsuit via the Archive’s blog, stating, “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. We hope this can be resolved quickly.”

Claiming piracy against a lending library would be a tough argument to make in any court room if it wasn’t for one key difference. As the NYTimes points out, traditional public libraries pay fees to publishers and adhere to lending books for a set period of time. The Internet Archive doesn’t, and instead either buys or receives books through donations and proceeds to scan them so as to make them available online.

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