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The Internet Archive Chooses Readers

In the face of the coronavirus pandemic that is gripping the world, that has ground the global economy to a stuttering halt with grievous consequences, infected hundreds of thousands at this writing and killed tens of thousands with numbers sure to mount exponentially, what choices will we make, and what values will guide our decisions?

Last week the Internet Archive (IA), a non-profit entity dedicated to “Universal Access to All Knowledge” decided that its answer to this clarion call is to open what it termed a “National Emergency Library.” The service is based on IA’s earlier efforts to offer “controlled digital lending,” the idea that IA loans one digitized version at a time for every print copy it sequesters — a concept based on fair use doctrine, but without legal standing. Through this model, the IA has for some time been offering access to a massive quantity of digitized – including still in-copyright — materials. Now, for the duration of the US national emergency, IA is offering access to its digitized books without any limitations based on sequestered print copies and doing so globally. “It is meant,” the IA has asserted of the National Emergency Library, “to meet a very specific, extraordinary need” as university, school and public libraries around the world have shuttered.

From some quarters, there were huzzahs. In the New Yorker Jill Lepore declared the emergency library “a gift to readers everywhere.” Uncharacteristically breathlessly, Lepore compared the IA’s action to the World War II “Council on Books In Wartime,” which sent books to service members around the world and “created a nation of readers.” NPR lauded the IA for “Lend[ing] A Hand — And Lots Of Books! — During Pandemic.”  From these initial reactions, and from the IA’s own materials, the focus is very clearly on access.

The Author’s Guild and the Association of American Publishers see the emergency library differently. “…appalled by the Internet Archive’s (IA) announcement that it is now making millions of in-copyright books freely available online without restriction on its Open Library site under the guise of a National Emergency Library,” the AG argues that the “IA has no rights whatsoever to these books, much less to give them away indiscriminately without consent of the publisher or author.” The statement from AAP’s president and CEO Maria Pallante left no doubt about her organization’s views:  “We are stunned by the Internet Archive’s aggressive, unlawful, and opportunistic attack on the rights of authors and publishers in the midst of the novel coronavirus pandemic.”

Read entire article at Scholarly Kitchen