Publishers Not Thrilled with Internet Archive

April 15, 2024

So you are saving the library of an island? So what?

The non-profit Internet Archive (IA) preserves digital history. It also archives a wealth of digital media, including a large number of books, for the public to freely access. Certain major publishers are trying to stop the organization from sharing their books. These firms just scored a win in a New York federal court. However, the IA is not giving up. In its defense, the organization has pointed to the opinions of authors and copyright scholars. Now, Hachette, HarperCollins, John Wiley, and Penguin Random House counter with their own roster of experts. TorrentFreak reports, “Publishers Secure Widespread Support in Landmark Copyright Battle with Internet Archive.” Journalist Ernesto Van der Sar writes:

“The importance of this legal battle is illustrated by the large number of amicus briefs that are filed by third parties. Previously, IA received support from copyright scholars and the Authors Alliance, among others. A few days ago, another round of amicus came in at the Court of Appeals, this time to back the publishers who filed their reply last week. In more than a handful of filings, prominent individuals and organizations urge the Appeals Court not to reverse the district court ruling, arguing that this would severely hamper the interests of copyright holders. The briefs include positions from industry groups such as the MPA, RIAA, IFPI, Copyright Alliance, the Authors Guild, various writers unions, and many others. Legal scholars, professors, and former government officials, also chimed in.”

See the article for more details on those chimes. A couple points to highlight: First, AI is a part of this because of course it is. Several trade groups argue IA makes high-quality texts too readily available for LLMs to train upon, posing an “artificial intelligence” threat. Also of interest are the opinions that differentiate this case from the Google Books precedent. We learn:

“[Scholars of relevant laws] stress that IA’s practice should not be seen as ‘transformative’ fair use, arguing that the library offers a ‘substitution’ for books that are legally offered by the publishers. This sets the case apart from current legal precedents including the Google Books case, where Google’s mass use of copyrighted books was deemed fair use. ‘IA’s exploitation of copyrighted books is thus the polar opposite of the copying that was found to be transformative in Google Books and HathiTrust. IA offers no “utility-expanding” searchable database to its subscribers.’”

Ah, the devilish details. Will these amicus-rich publishers prevail, or will the decision be overturned on IA’s appeal?

Cynthia Murrell, April 15, 2024


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