The Internet Archive should remain online

Written By Carson Folio, Staff Writer

On March 24, 2023, a judge on a lower court in Southern New York ruled against the Internet Archive in Hachette v. Internet Archive, determining that the scanning and uploading of books that they had purchased for their website was copyright infringement. The Internet Archive operates an online “Open Library” that normally only allows one person at a time to lend a digital copy of a book for two weeks, much like a traditional library.


Major book publishers only took legal issue to this when the lending restriction was temporarily lifted as part of a program called the “National Emergency Library.” The Internet Archive does plan to appeal the ruling to a higher court. This is an issue that could seem like piracy being thwarted to some, with authors celebrating the ruling so they can get back any profits they may have lost from the Internet Archive’s National Emergency Library initiative.


But is this as simple as ‘piracy bad’?


No. Not even close. For one, let me state once more that the books that were scanned by the Internet Archive were obtained legally and in line with first sale doctrine and fair use laws. Therefore, they can do what they please with the books so long as they only allow one person at a time to lend a book just like a traditional library would. While lifting this restriction may not have been lawful with this reasoning, publishers have taken issue with the entire concept of the Open Library. This makes little sense considering that with the limitations the Internet Archive puts in place on books being taken out – something they call “Controlled Digital Lending (CDL)” – they then operate much like a traditional library. A traditional library buys books or receives them in donations, puts them in a database, and allows people to take them out for a set time interval depending on how many copies are in the library’s database. The Internet Archive’s Open Library operates the same way. It is almost as if the Internet Archive is a library; even the U.S government recognizes it as one.


If the Open Library gets taken down, the consequences will be monumental. Some who defend the Internet Archive have compared this to the burning of the library of Alexandria and that would not be too far fetched either; they have 36 million books and texts in their collection. There is a very real possibility that there are books in their collection that would not be available anywhere else. Considering how books do eventually go out of print and how books continue to be banned, this is almost a guarantee.


And yet big publishers know this and do not care.


While the risk of other Internet Archive services being affected such as their WayBack Machine – a service that creates interactive captures of websites going back as far as 1996 – is low, I am still worried. This organization has helped preserve knowledge ever since its’ inception and has helped me personally read books I would otherwise never find and is genuinely a helpful academic resource; when websites go offline and a valuable source for research disappears, the Internet Archive has saved me plenty of times. I also encourage anyone reading this to look at old captures of our website; much has changed but it goes to show that these pieces should stay readable for years to come.