Internet Archive forced to remove 500,000 books after publishers’ court win

As a result of book publishers successfully suing the Internet Archive (IA) last year, the free online library that strives to keep growing online access to books recently shrank by about 500,000 titles.

IA reported in a blog post this month that publishers abruptly forcing these takedowns triggered a “devastating loss” for readers who depend on IA to access books that are otherwise impossible or difficult to access.

To restore access, IA is now appealing, hoping to reverse the prior court’s decision by convincing the US Court of Appeals in the Second Circuit that IA’s controlled digital lending of its physical books should be considered fair use under copyright law. An April court filing shows that IA intends to argue that the publishers have no evidence that the e-book market has been harmed by the open library’s lending, and copyright law is better served by allowing IA’s lending than by preventing it.

“We use industry-standard technology to prevent our books from being downloaded and redistributed—the same technology used by corporate publishers,” Chris Freeland, IA’s director of library services, wrote in the blog. “But the publishers suing our library say we shouldn’t be allowed to lend the books we own. They have forced us to remove more than half a million books from our library, and that’s why we are appealing.”

IA will have an opportunity to defend its practices when oral arguments start in its appeal on June 28.

“Our position is straightforward; we just want to let our library patrons borrow and read the books we own, like any other library,” Freeland wrote, while arguing that the “potential repercussions of this lawsuit extend far beyond the Internet Archive” and publishers should just “let readers read.”

“This is a fight for the preservation of all libraries and the fundamental right to access information, a cornerstone of any democratic society,” Freeland wrote. “We believe in the right of authors to benefit from their work; and we believe that libraries must be permitted to fulfill their mission of providing access to knowledge, regardless of whether it takes physical or digital form. Doing so upholds the principle that knowledge should be equally and equitably accessible to everyone, regardless of where they live or where they learn.”

Internet Archive fans beg publishers to end takedowns

After publishers won an injunction stopping IA’s digital lending, which “limits what we can do with our digitized books,” IA’s help page said, the open library started shrinking. While “removed books are still available to patrons with print disabilities,” everyone else has been cut off, causing many books in IA’s collection to show up as “Borrow Unavailable.”

Ever since, IA has been “inundated” with inquiries from readers all over the world searching for the removed books, Freeland said. And “we get tagged in social media every day where people are like, ‘why are there so many books gone from our library’?” Freeland told Ars.

In an open letter to publishers signed by nearly 19,000 supporters, IA fans begged publishers to reconsider forcing takedowns and quickly restore access to the lost books.

Among the “far-reaching implications” of the takedowns, IA fans counted the negative educational impact of academics, students, and educators—”particularly in underserved communities where access is limited—who were suddenly cut off from “research materials and literature that support their learning and academic growth.”

They also argued that the takedowns dealt “a serious blow to lower-income families, people with disabilities, rural communities, and LGBTQ+ people, among many others,” who may not have access to a local library or feel “safe accessing the information they need in public.”

“Your removal of these books impedes academic progress and innovation, as well as imperiling the preservation of our cultural and historical knowledge,” the letter said.

“This isn’t happening in the abstract,” Freeland told Ars. “This is real. People no longer have access to a half a million books.”

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