Publishers Are Taking the Internet to Court

“The trial is set for next year in federal court, with initial disclosures for discovery scheduled to take place next week. The publishers’ “prayer for relief” seeks to destroy the Open Library’s existing books, and to soak the Internet Archive for a lot of money; in their response, the Archive is looking to have its opponents’ claims denied in full, its legal costs paid, and “such other and further relief as the Court deems just and equitable.” But what’s really at stake in this lawsuit is the idea of ownership itself—what it means not only for a library but for anyone to own a book….

The Internet Archive is a tech partner to hundreds of libraries, including the Library of Congress, for whom it develops techniques for the stewardship of digital content. It helps them build their own Web-based collections with tools such as Archive-It, which is currently used by more than 600 organizations including universities, museums, and government agencies, as well as libraries, to create their own searchable public archives. The Internet Archive repairs broken links on Wikipedia—by the million. It has collected thousands of early computer games, and developed online emulators so they can be played on modern computers. It hosts collections of live music performances, 78s and cylinder recordings, radio shows, films and video. I am leaving a lot out about its groundbreaking work in making scholarly materials more accessible, its projects to expand books to the print-disabled—too many undertakings and achievements to count….

For-profit publishers like HarperCollins or Hachette don’t perform the kind of work required to preserve a cultural posterity. Publishers are not archivists. They obey the dictates of the market. They keep books in print based on market considerations, not cultural ones. …

publishers would like to see libraries obliged to license, not to own, books—that is, continue to pay for the same book again and again. That’s what this lawsuit is really about. It’s impossible to avoid the conclusion that publishers took advantage of the pandemic to achieve what they had not been able to achieve previously: to turn the library system into a “reading as a service” operation from which they can squeeze profits forever….”