“The Hachette v. Internet Archive case has been in the press lately following the parties’ filing of summary judgment motions. But the case is not about the end of copyright as we know it, as Copyright Alliance CEO Keith Kupferschmid implied in his July 18 PW Soapbox, “Standing Up for Copyright.” Nor is it a “torpedo” aimed at the Copyright Act, as AAP CEO Maria Pallante said in a recent PW q&a. Rather, the case concerns the special role of libraries to provide open, nondiscriminatory access to books.
At issue in the publishers’ lawsuit is a practice called controlled digital lending, the principles of which my colleague Dave Hansen and I codified in a 2018 white paper. Under CDL, libraries (including the Internet Archive) make scans of their legally acquired physical books and loan the scans in lieu of the print under rules that mimic physical lending: only one person can borrow a scan at a time; the scans are DRM-protected; and only one format can circulate at a time to maintain a one-to-one “owned-to-loan” ratio. In other words, if the scan is checked out, its print counterpart cannot circulate, and vice versa….
Pallante suggests such efficiency is a bad thing, citing the publishers’ long expressed desire for “friction” in digital library lending. But having legally purchased their physical books, the IA and its partner libraries are entitled under copyright law to lend them. Nothing in the Copyright Act requires there be any amount of friction in the lending process. Copyright law does not protect friction.
It is time for the major publishers to stop treating each library loan as a lost consumer sale. In his Soapbox, Kupferschmid complained that the IA has “amassed a collection without paying the rights holders a cent.” In fact, the books were paid for. These are the books that sit on our libraries’ shelves or in our off-site repositories. They were all purchased by a library or otherwise legally acquired, and the authors were all paid in accordance with their publishing contracts. Furthermore, this is what libraries do: amass and preserve collections that serve an important, fundamental purpose in society long recognized and valued by the public, courts, Congress, as well as by publishers and authors….”