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The Internet Archive Is Again at Risk of Disappearing in Case Against Major Publisher

Kindle lying on a desk

A trail whose outcome could affect the future of the Internet Archive is about to start. This case is one of the biggest copyright infringement cases in recent history. Their Open Library, as well as several other large internet libraries like Z-Library, were shut down. This lawsuit could cost the Internet Archive billions of dollars in damages if the judge favors the publishers bringing the case against them. The costs could potentially force the Internet Archive out of business.

What is the Internet Archive?

Started in 1996, The Internet Archive is a nonprofit library started in San Francisco. It was created using the tools of the modern-age archival system to have a digital record of books, music, TV shows, and movies. Their mission is to create “universal access to all knowledge.” This seems important now more than ever, especially since state-sanctioned book banning is becoming more and more prevalent. Access to information in the age of information shouldn’t be this difficult. 

Open Library had a “controlled digital lending” program that had users share e-copies of media. Users could borrow five books for up to two weeks—just like a real library. The copy could be a PDF or ePub, depending on the person’s preference. This independent research library aims to preserve access to information.

Internet Archive intends to argue that the Core Principles of Controlled Digital Lending is an extension of a traditional library’s mission, but for digital copies.

  • A library must own a legal copy of the physical book, by purchase or via donation or gift;
  • A library must maintain an “owned to loaned” ratio, simultaneously lending no more copies than it legally owns; and,
  • A library must use technical measures to ensure that the digital file cannot be copied or redistributed.
Controlled Digital Lending Core Principles

The digital nature of ebooks means that the content could change after a consumer purchases a product. These internet archives would preserve the original copy of an ebook that no longer exists. 

Who’s involved in the trial?

Four publishers—Hachette, HarperCollins, Wiley, and Penguin Random House—are suing Internet Archive for sharing scanned copies of their books. The publishers are arguing that “no case has held or even suggested that IA’s conduct is a lawful fair use.”

However, the attorney representing Internet Archive, Joseph Gratz, begs to differ: “Copyright law does not stand in the way of a library’s right to lend its books to its patrons, one at a time.”

The publishers will be arguing in front of Judge John G. Koeltl. Judge Koeltl is famous for his decision to sentence civil rights lawyer Lynne Stewart to 28 months in prison for aiding her client, Omar Abdel-Rahman. Rahman was a mastermind behind the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. 


During the pandemic, Open Library paused its waiting list system, which ensured the same number of digital copies distributed as the physical copies available in the warehouse. This was when publishers stopped turning a blind eye to the Open Library project’s nonstandard lending procedure. 

On June 1, 2020, Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins Publishers, John Wiley & Sons Inc., and Penguin Random House sued Internet Archive for sharing scanned copies of their books. Hachette v. Internet Archive oral arguments finally started on March 20, 2023.

The hearings will continue. 

For more coverage on trial, Publisher’s Weekly has a list of articles available

(Featured image: @felipepelaquim on Unsplash)

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Nava was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area. Currently, they edit economic textbooks by day and write geeky articles for the internet in the evenings. They currently exist on unceded Lenape land aka Brooklyn. (Filipine/a Mexican American)