Internet Archive News and Opinion

Hachette, HarperCollins, John Wiley & Sons and Penguin Random House sued Internet Archive in June 2020 over its lending policies. Judge John G. Koeltl of the Southern District of New York found Friday in Hachette v. Internet Archive notes that the nonprofit organization “creates derivative e-books that, when distributed to the public, compete with the books authorized by the publishers.”

A future where libraries are just a shell for Big Tech’s licensing software and Big Media’s most popular titles would be awful – but that’s where we’re headed once this decision stands.

Internet Archive “claims that its digital lending facilitates access to books for users living far from physical libraries and that it supports research, scholarship and cultural participation by making books universally accessible on the internet,” the judge wrote. “But these alleged advantages cannot outweigh the market damage for the publishers.”

In a response to the ruling, Internet Archive founder Brewster Kahle vowed to continue fighting the publishers.

“Libraries are more than customer service departments for corporate database products. In order for democracy to thrive on a global scale, libraries must be able to maintain their historical role in society – owning, preserving, and lending books,” Kahle said. “This ruling is a blow to libraries, readers and authors, and we plan to appeal.”

Internet Archive supporters have issued similar warnings as the court battle continues, even after Friday’s verdict.

“In a chilling ruling, a New York City lower court judge completely disregarded the traditional rights of libraries to own and preserve books in favor of maximizing profits for big media conglomerates,” said Lia Holland, campaigns and communications director at Digital Rights Group fight for the future.

“We applaud the Internet Archive’s appeal announcement and their unwavering commitment to upholding the rights of all libraries and their users in the digital age,” they said. “And our admiration is shared – this week alone, over 14,000 people have signed our Pledge to Defend Libraries’ Digital Rights on”

Holland continued:

From a basic human rights perspective, it is patently absurd to equate an e-book license issued by a surveillance-ridden big tech with a digital book file owned and maintained by a privacy-defending non-profit library. Currently, publishers do not provide libraries with a way to own and preserve digital books, leaving digital books vulnerable to unauthorized editing, censorship or outright deletion, and library patrons vulnerable to surveillance and punishment for what they read.

In a world where libraries can’t own, preserve, or control the digital books in their collections, only the most popular best-selling authors can benefit – at the expense of the vast majority of authors, whose books are kept and bought by libraries long after publishers have stopped to promote them. Additionally, a disproportionate number of traditionally marginalized and local voices are now published exclusively in digital form, duplicating the need for a robust library preservation regime to ensure these stories are preserved for generations to come.

A future where libraries are just a shell for Big Tech’s licensing software and Big Media’s most popular titles would be awful – but that’s where we’re headed once this decision stands. No book lover who wants a just and trustworthy written world could find such a future desirable. Accordingly, we plan to organize a personal action to demand strict ownership and preservation standards for digital books and libraries. Visit for up-to-date information on when and where.

More than 300 authors signed an open letter led by Fight for the Future last September calling on publishers and trade associations to take action against digital libraries, including the lawsuit against Internet Archive.

“Libraries saved my life as a young reader, and I’ve seen them do just as much and more for so many others,” said signer Jeff Sharlet. “At a time when libraries are at the forefront of fascism’s onslaught on democracy, it is more important than ever that writers stand in solidarity with librarians to defend the right to share stories. Democracy will not survive without them.”

Co-signer Erin Taylor asserted that “The Internet Archive is a public good. Libraries are a public good.