Two and a half years ago, the Internet Archive (“IA”) made a decision that pissed off a lot of writers—and embroiled it in a lawsuit that many netizens fear could weaken the archive, its finances, and its services long into the future.
At the time, prominent authors spoke out against the IA’s National Emergency Library. IA started up the emergency library when bookstores and libraries closed their doors in March 2020 due to the “pandemic.” Many writers called it “piracy” and condemned the archive for allegedly stealing from creators.
More than two months after the National Emergency Library kicked off, Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins, Penguin Random House, and John Wiley & Sons (all members of the Association of American Publishers) sued the Internet Archive. In response, the archive ended the National Emergency Library a little earlier than planned, on 11 June 2020.
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Since the publishers’ suit was filed, many of the authors who had protested the archive have deleted their tweets or released statements explaining they’ve changed their minds.
But the lawsuit is ongoing – and it’s recently escalated. We may find out sooner than later whether the beloved digital non-profit will prevail in its fight against some of the world’s biggest publishers.
Fears persist that the uncertainties of this case could cripple the archive and, subsequently, the myriad services it offers to the 1.5 million people who visit it every day. In addition to lending books digitally, the Internet Archive hosts the Wayback Machine, a tool that has chronicled internet history since 1996. The concern is that if legal costs drain the archive of its funds, all of its services could be affected. Users of the site and digital archivists have compared the potential loss of the archive’s services to the burning of the Library of Alexandria.
If even authors themselves appear to be backing away from the battle, why are publishers continuing the suit – and what could it really mean for the internet and its most comprehensive archive?
Read more: Could the Internet Archive Go Out Like Napster? Slate, 12 September 2022
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