“Four of the nation’s leading book publishers have sued the Internet Archive, the online library best known for maintaining the Internet Wayback Machine. The Internet Archive makes scanned copies of books—both public domain and under copyright—available to the public on a site called the Open Library.
“Despite the Open Library moniker, IA’s actions grossly exceed legitimate library services, do violence to the Copyright Act, and constitute willful digital piracy on an industrial scale,” write publishers Hachette, HarperCollins, Wiley, and Penguin Random House in their complaint. The lawsuit was filed in New York federal court on Monday.
For almost a decade, the Open Library has offered users the ability to “borrow” scans of in-copyright books via the Internet. Until recently, the service was based on a concept called “controlled digital lending” that mimicked the constraints of a conventional library. The library would only “lend” as many digital copies of a book as it had physical copies in its warehouse. If all copies of a book were “checked out” by other patrons, you’d have to join a waiting list.
In March, as the coronavirus pandemic was gaining steam, the Internet Archive announced it was dispensing with this waiting-list system. Under a program it called the National Emergency Library, IA began allowing an unlimited number of people to check out the same book at the same time—even if IA only owned one physical copy.
Before this change, publishers largely looked the other way as IA and a few other libraries experimented with the digital lending concept. Some publishers’ groups condemned the practice, but no one filed a lawsuit over it. Perhaps the publishers feared setting an adverse precedent if the courts ruled that CDL was legal….”