'Emergency library' set up to let people read during pandemic forced to shut down

Adam Smith
Monday 15 June 2020 12:15 BST
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Antiracist books have risen to the top of Amazon's best sellers list (stock image).
Antiracist books have risen to the top of Amazon's best sellers list (stock image).

The Internet Archive has had to shut down its National Emergency Library program because of a lawsuit from four publishers.

The Emergency Library is a “temporary collection of books that supports emergency remote teaching, research activities, independent scholarship, and intellectual stimulation while universities, schools, training centers, and libraries are closed,” according to the Internet Archive’s website.

Usually, books from the Internet Archive can be checked-out via a waiting list. The Emergency Library bypassed the waiting lists, making the books available instantly.

However, that collection has had to shut two weeks early because Hachette, Penguin Random House, Wiley, and HarperCollins sued the Archive over copyright infringement.

The Author’s Guild had previously said in March that the Internet Archive was “us[ing] the Covid-19 epidemic as an excuse to push copyright law further out to the edges, and in doing so, harm authors, many of whom are already struggling.”

In a blog post, the Archive asked for the publishers to “call off their costly assault.”

It also said it would not completely end the online lending completely; instead, it would go back to controlled digital lending.

Under that model, users can check one book out for each physical copy it has in stock, with a waiting list made for people who want to read the same book.

If they do not, such action could destroy the Internet Archive. Ars Technica reports that copyright law allows statutory damages for willful infringement at a maximum of $150,000 per work.

Since the Internet Archive scanned 1.4 million works, it could face damages at a maximum of billions of dollars, which it would not be able to pay.

It is unclear whether this move will stop the publishers continuing with their lawsuit. If the publishers did, it could imply the legality of the “controlled digital lending” model and endanger money they receive from eBooks.

It would also be unlikely to protect the Internet Archive from books downloaded over the last three months.

The Independent has reached out to all parties for comment.

The Internet Archive does not only archive books. It has also been backdating the World Wide Web, saving pages from the 1990s that includes an entire copy of the internet.

In 2015, it uploaded 2,400 classic DOS games that can be played in computer browsers in order to avoid them falling into obscurity.

Also among its collection are images from Nasa and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, as well as audio collections of music, audiobooks, news broadcasts, and radio shows.

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